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William F. E. Gurley 

CLASS OF 1877 





'' '^YifnMAnS 







Cornell University Library 
PR2991.J31 1905 

Shakespeare's heroines; characteristics o 

3 1924 013 161 322 

Cornell University 

The original of tiiis bool< is in 
the Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 


From the Painting by P. H. Calderon 

Shakespeare's Heroines 


Characteristics of Women, Moral, 
Poetical and Historical 



Hi ^ ^ 



NEW YORK ''\}i^i^\\ 










In preparing" for the press this little work, the 
author has endeavored to render it more worthy 
of the approbation and kindly feeling with which 
it has been received: she cannot better express 
her sense of both than by justifying, as far as 
it is in her power, the cordial and flattering tone 
of all the public criticisms. It is to the great 
name of Shakespeare, that bond of sympathy 
among all who speak his language, and to the 
subject of the work, not to its own merits, that 
she attributes the success it has met with, — suc- 
cess the more delightful, because, in truth, it 
was from the very first so entirely unlocked for 
as to be a matter of surprise as well as of pleas- 
ure and gratitude. 

In this Edition there are many corrections, and . 
some additions, which the author hopes may be 
deemed improvements. She has ' been induced 
to insert several quotations at length, which were 
formerly only referred to, from observing that, 
however familiar they may be to the mind of the 
reader, they are always recognized with pleas- 
ure, like dear domestic faces ; and if the memory 
fail at the moment to recall the lines or the sen- 
timent to which the attention is directly required, . 
few like to interrupt the course of thought, or 


IMstorical CbarMters 

.j/k CLEOPATRA— Antony and Cleopatra 

OC TAVIA— Antony and Cleopatr a 

VOLUMNIA— Cariolanus 



BLANCHE— King John . 


Henry VIII 

i^ LADY MACBETH— Macbeth 








We hear it asserted, not seldom by way of com- 
pliment to us women, that intellect is of no sex. 
If this mean that the same faculties of mind are 
common to men and women, it is true; in any 
other signification it appears to me false, and 
the reverse of a compliment. fThe intellect of 
woman bears the same relation to that of man 
as her physical organization; — it is inferior in 
power, and different in kind. That certain 
women have surpassed certain men in bodily- 
strength or intellectual energy does not contra- 
dict the general principle founded in nature. The 
essential and invariable distinction appears to me 
this : in men, the intellectual faculties exist more 
self-poised and self-directed — ^more independent 
of the rest of the character, than we ever find 
them in woment\with whom talent, however pre- 
dominant, is irrii much greater degree modified 
by the sympathies and moral qualities. 

In thinking over all the distinguished women 
I can at this moment call to mind, I recollect but 

2 Sbaftcspeate's t>ctoinc0. 

one who, in the exercise of a rare talent, belied 
her sex; but the moral qualities had been first 
perverted.^ It is from not knowing, or not al- 
lowing this general principle, that men of genius 
have committed some signal mistakes. They 
have given us exquisite and just delineations of 
the more peculiar characteristics of women, as 
modesty, grace, tenderness; and when they have 
attempted to portray them with the powers com- 
mon to both sexes, as wit, energy, intellect, they 
have blundered in some respect ; they could form 
no conception of intellect which was not mas- 
culine, and therefore have either suppressed the 
feminine attributes altogether and drawn coarse 
caricatures, or they have made them completely 
artificial.'' Women distinguished for wit may 
sometimes appear masculine and flippant, but the 
cause must be sought elsewhere than in nature, 
.who disclaims' all such. Hence the witty and in- 
tellectual ladies of our comedies and novels are 
all in the fashion of some particular time; they 

^Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian artist of the seven- 
teenth century, painted one or two pictures, considered 
admirable as works of art, of which the subjects are the 
most vicious and barbarous conceivable. I remember 
one of these in the gallery of Florence, which I looked 
at once, but once, and wished then, as I do now, for the 
privilege of burning it to ashes. 

'Lucy Ashton, in the "Bride of Lammermoor,'' may 
be placed next to Desdemona; Diana Vernon is (com- 
paratively) a failure, as every woman will allow; while 
the masculine Lady Geraldine, in Miss Edgeworth's tale 
of "Ennui," and the intellectual Corinne, are consistent, 
essential women : the distinction is more easily felt than 

f>ott{a. 3 

are lilce some old portraits which can still amuse 
and please by the beauty of the workmanship, 
in spite of the graceless costume or grotesque 
accompaniments, but from which we turn to wor- 
ship with ever new delight the Floras and god- 
desses of Titian, the saints anjd the virgins of 
Raffaelle and Domenichino. So the Millamants 
and Belindas, the Lady Townleys and Lady Tea- 
zles, are out of date, while Portia and Rosalind, 
in whom nature and the feminine character are 
paramount, remain bright and fresh to the fancy 
as when first created. 

Portia, Isabella, Beatrice, and Rosalind, may 
be classed together as characters of intellect, be- 
cause, when compared with others, they are at 
once distinguished by their mental superiority. 
In Portia, is intellect kindled into romance by 
a poetical imagination; in Isabel, it is intellect 
elevated by religious principle; in Beatrice, in- 
tellect animated by spirit; in Rosalind, intellect, 
softened by sensibility. The wit which is lav- 
ished on each is profound, or pointed, or spark- 
ling, or playful — ^but always feminine: like spir- 
its distilled from flowers, it always reminds us 
of its origin; it is a volatile essence, sweet as 
powerful; and to pursue the comparison a step 
further, the wit of Portia is like attar of roses, 
rich and concentrated ; that of Rosalind, like cot- 
ton dipped in aromatic vinegar; the wit of Bea- 
trice is like sal-volatile, and that of Isabel like 
the incense wafted to heaven. Of these four ex- 
quisite characters, considered as dramatic and 
poetical conceptions, it is difficult to pronounce 

4 Sbaftc0peate'6 ibetoince. 

which is most perfect in its way, most admirably 
drawn, most highly finished. But if considered 
in another point of view, as women and indi- 
viduals, as breathing realities, clothed in flesh 
and blood, I believe we must assign the first 
rank to Portia, as uniting in herself, in a more 
eminent degree than the others, all the noblest 
and most lovable qualities that ever met to- 
gether in woman, and presenting a complete per- 
sonification of Petrarch's exquisite epitome of 
female perfection: 

II vago spirito ardento, 
E'n alto intelletto, un puro core. 

It is singular that hitherto no critical justice 
has been done to the character of Portia; it is 
yet more wonderful that one of the finest writers 
on the eternal subject of Shakespeare and his 
perfections should accuse Portia of pedantry and 
affectation, and confess she is not a great favorite 
of his — a confession quite worthy of him who 
avers his predilection for servant-maids, and his 
preference of the Fannys and the Pamela's over 
the Clementinas and Clarissas. Schlegel, who 
has given several pages to a rapturous eulogy 
on the "Merchant of Venice," simply designates 
Portia as a "rich, beautiful, clever heiress." 
Whether the fault lie in the writer or translator, 
I do protest against the word clever.* Portia 

' I am informed that the original German word is gets- 
treiche; literally, rich in soul or spirit, a just and beau- 
tiful epithet. — 2nd Edit. 

poctfa. 5 

clever! What an epithet to apply to this heav- 
enly compound of talent, feeling, wisdom, beauty, 

, and gentleness ! Now would it not be well if 
this common and comprehensive word were more 

_ accurately defined, or at least more accurately 
used ? It signifies properly, not so much the pos- 
session of high powers as dexterity in the adapta- 
tion of certain faculties (not necessarily of a high 
order) to a certain end or aim — not always the 

. worthiest. It implies something commonplace, 
inasmuch as it speaks the presence of the active 
and perceptive, with a deficiency of the feeling 
and reflective powers; and, applied to a woman, 
does it not almost invariably suggest the idea of 
something we should distrust or shrink from, if 
not allied to a higher nature? The profligate 
French women who ruled the councils of Europe 
in the middle of the last century, were clever 
women; and that philosopher ess, Madame du 
Chatelet, who managed at one and the same mo- 
ment the thread of an intrigue, her cards at 
piquet, and a calculation in algebra, was a very 
clever woman! If Portia had been created as 
a mere instrument to bring about a dramatic 
catastrophe — if she had merely detected the flaw 
in Antonio's bond and used it as a means to baf- 
fle the Jew, she might have been pronounced a 
clever woman. But what Portia does is forgot- 
ten in what she is. . The rare and harmonious 
blending of energy, reflection, and feeUng, in 
her fine character, makes the epithet clever sound 
like a discord as applied to her, and places her 
infinitely beyond the slight praise of Richardson 

Sbaftespeare's tietoinee, 

aad Schlegel, neither of whom appears to have 
fully comprehended her. 

Th^se and other critics have been apparently 
so dazzled and engrossed by the amazing char- 
acter of Shylock, that Portia has received less 
than jiUStice at their hands ; while the fact is, that 
Shylock is not a finer or more finished charac- 
ter in his way than Portia is in hers. These two 
spteodid figures are worthy of each other — 
worthy of being placed together within the same 
rich framework of enchanting poetry and glo- 
rious and graceful forms. She hangs beside the 
terrible inexorable Jew, the brilliant lights of her 
character set off by the shadowy power of his, 
like a magnificent beauty-breathing Titian by the 
side of a gorgeous Rembrandt. 

Portia IS endued with her own share of those 
delightful qualities which Shakespeare has lav- 
ished on many of his female characters; but be- 
sides the dignity, the sweetness, and tenderness 
which should distinguish her sex generally, she 
is individualized by qualities peculiar to herself; 
by her high mental powers, her enthusiasm of 
temperament, her decision of purpose, and her 
buoyancy of spirit. These are innate; she has 
other distinguishing qualities more external, and 
which are the result of the circumstances in 
which she is placed. Thus she is the heiress of 
a princely name and countless wealth; a train 
of obedient pleasures have ever waited round 
her; and from infancy she has breathed an at- 
mosphere redolent of perfume and blandishment. 
Accordingly there is a commanding grace, a high- 

©ottfa. 7 

bred, airy elegance, a spirit of magnificence, in 
all that she does and says, as one to whom splen- 
dor had been familiar from her very birth. She 
treads as though her footsteps had been among 
marble palaces, beneath roofs of fretted gold, 
o'er cedar floors and pavements of jasper and 
porphyry; amid gardens full of statues, and 
flowers, and fountains, and haunting music. She 
is full of penetrative wisdom, and genuine ten- 
derness, and lively wit; but as she has never 
known want, or grief, or fear, or disappoint- 
ment, her wisdom is without a touch of the som- 
bre or the sad; her affections are all mixed up 
with faith, hope, and joy; and her wit has not 
a particle of malevolence or causticity. 

It is well known that the "Merchant of Ven- 
ice" is founded on two different tales; and in 
weaving together his double plot in so masterly 
a manner, Shakespeare has rejected altogether 
the character of the astutious lady of Belmont 
with her magic potions, who figures in the Ital- 
ian novel. With yet more refinement, he has 
thrown out all the licentious part of the story, 
which some of his contemporary dramatists 
would have seized on with avidity, and made the 
best or the worst of it possible ; and he has sub- 
stituted the trial of the caskets from another 
source.* We are not told expressly where Bel- 

*In the "Mercatante di Venezia,'' of Ser. Giovanni, 
we have the whole story of Antonio and Bassanio, and 
part of the story but not the character of Portia. The 
incident of the caskets is from the "Gesta Romano- 

8 Sbaftespearc's "fcerofncs. 

mont is situated; but as Bassanio takes ship to 
go thither from Venice, and as we find them 
afterwards ordering horses from Belmont to 
Padua, we will imagine Portia's he^feditary pal- 
ace as standing on some lovely promontory be- 
tween Venice and Trieste, overlooking the blue 
Adriatic, with the Friuli mountains or the Eu- 
ganean hills' for its background, such as we often 
see in one of Claude's or Poussin's elysian land- 
scapes. In a scene, in a home like this, Shake- 
speare, having first exorcised the original pos- 
sessor, has placed his Portia: and so endowed 
her, that all the wild, strange, and moving cir- 
cumstances of the story become natural, prob- 
able, and necessary in connection with her. That 
such a woman should be chosen by the solving 
of an enigma is not surprising: herself and all 
around her, the scene, the country, the age in 
which she is placed, breathe of poetry, romance 
and enchantment. 

From the four quarters of the earth they come 

To kiss this shrine, this mortal breathing saint 

The Hyrcanian desert, and the vasty wilds 

Of wide Arabia, are as thoroughfares now, 

For princes to come view fair Portia ; 

The watery kingdom, whose ambitious head 

Spits in the face of heaven, is no bar 

To stop the foreign spirits; but they come 

As o'er a brook to see fair Portia. 

The sudden plan which she forms for the re- 
lease of her husband's friend, her disguise, and 
her deportment as the young and learned doc- 

portfa. 9 

tor, would appear forced and improbable in anj' 
other woman, but in Portia are the simple and 
natural result of her character.^ The quickness 
with which she perceives the legal advantage 
which may be taken of the circumstances ; the 
spirit of adventure with which she engages in 
the masquerading, and the decision, firmness, and 
intelligence with which she executes her gen- 
erous purpose, are all in perfect keeping, and 
nothing appears forced — ^nothing is introduced 
merely for theatrical effect. 

But all the finest parts of Portia's character 
are brought to bear in the trial scene. There 
she shines forth all her divine self. Her intel- 
lectual powers, her elevated sense of religion, 
her high, honorable principles, her best feelings 
as a woman, are all displayed. She maintains 
at first a calm self-command, as one sure of car- 
rying her point in the end ! yet the painful heart- 
thrilling uncertainty in which she keeps the whole 
court, until suspense verges upon agony, is not 
contrived for effect merely; it is necessary and 
inevitable. She has two objects in view — ^to de- 
liver her husband's friend, and to maintain her 
husband's honor by the discharge of his just 
debt, though paid out of her own wealth ten 
times over. It is evident that she would rather 
owe the safety of Antonio to anything rather 
than the legal quibble with which her cousin Bel- 

' In that age, delicate points of law were not deter- 
mined by the ordinary judges of the provinces, but by 
doctors of law, who were called from Bologna, Padua, 
and other places celebrated for their legal colleges. 

10 Sbaftespeare's iDerofncs. 

lario has armed her, and which she reserves as 
a last resource. Thus all the speeches addressed 
to Shylock in the first instance are either direct 
or indirect experiments on his temper and feel- 
ings. She must be understood, from the begin- 
ning to the end, as examining with intense anx- 
iety the effect of her own words on his mind 
and countenance; as watching for that relenting 
spirit which she hopes to awaken either by rea- 
son or persuasion. She begins by an appeal to 
his mercy, in that matchless piece of eloquence 
which, with an irresistible and solemn pathos, 
falls upon the heart like "gentle dew from 
heaven :" — but in vain; for that blessed dew, drops 
not more fruitless and unfelt on the parched sand 
of the desert, than do these heavenly words upon 
the ear of Shylock. She next attacks his' ava^^- 
rice : 

Shylock, there's thrice thy money offer'd thee. 

Then she appeals, in the same breath, both to 
his avarice and his pity : 

Be merciful! 
Take thrice thy money. Bid me tear the bond. 

All that she says afterwards — her strong ex- 
pressions, which are calculated to strike a shud- 
dering horror through the nerves ; the reflections 
she interposes, her delays and circumlocution to 
give time for any latent feeling of commisera- 
tion to display itself ; all, all are premeditated, and 
tend in the same manner to the object she has in 
view. Thus — 

Portia. 11 

You must prepare your bosom for his knife. 
Therefore lay bare your bosom ! 

These two speeches, though addressed appa- 
rently to Antonio, are spoken at Shylock, and 
are evidently intended to penetrate his bosom. 
In the same spirit she asks for the balance to 
weigh the pound of flesh; and entreats of Shy- 
lock to have a surgeon ready — 

Have by some surgeon, Shylock, on your charge. 
To stop his wounds lest he do bleed to death! 


Is it not so nominated in the bond? 


It is not so express' d — but what of that? 
'Twere good you do so much, for charity. 

So unwilling is her sanguine and generous . 
spirit to resign all hope, or to believe that hu- 
manity is absolutely extinct in the bosom of the 
Jew, that she calls on Antonio, as a last resource, 
to speak for himself. His gentle yet manly res- 
ignation — the deep pathos of his farewell, and 
the affectionate allusion to herself in his last . 
address to Bassanio — 

Commend me to your honourable wife ; 

Say how I loved you, speak me fair in death, &c. 

are well calculated to swell that emotion which - 
through the whole scene must have been labor- 
ing suppressed within her heart. 

At length the crisis arrives, for patience and 
womanhood can endure no longer; and when 

12 Sbaftcspeate's IBerofnca. 

Shylock, carrying his savage bent "to the last 
hour of act," springs on his victim — "A sentence ! 
come, prepare!" then the smothered scorn, indig- 
nation, and disgust burst forth with an impet- 
uosity which interferes with the judicial solemn- 
ity she had at first affected; particularly in the 
speech — 

Therefore, prepare thee to cut off the flesh. 

Shed thou no blood; nor cut thou less, nor more, 

But just the pound of flesh: if thou tak'st more 

Or less than a just pound — be it but so much 

As makes it light, or heavy, in the substance. 

Or the division of the twentieth part 

Of one poor scruple; nay, if the scale do turn 

But in the estimation of a hair, — 

Thou diest, and all thy goods are confiscate. 

But she afterwards recovers her propriety, and 
triumphs with a cooler scorn and a more self- 
possessed exultation. 

It is clear that, to feel the full force and dra- 
matic beauty of this marvellous scene, we must go 
along with Portia as well as with Shylock; we 
must understand her concealed purpose, keep in 
mind her noble motives, and pursue in our fancy 
the undercurrent of feeling, working in her 
mind throughout. The terror and the power of 
Shylock's character, — his deadly and inexorable 
malice — would be too oppressive; the pain and 
pity too intolerable, and the horror of the pos- 
sible issue too overwhelming, but for the intel- 
lectual relief afforded by this double source of 
interest and contemplation. 

I come now to that capacity for warm and 

IPortia. 13 

generous affection, that tenderness of heart, which 
render Portia not less lovable as a woman than 
admirable for her mental endowments. The af- 
fections are to the intellect what the forge is to 
the metal; it is they which temper and shape it 
to all good purposes, and soften, strengthen, and 
■ purify it. What an exquisite stroke of judgment 
in the poet, to make the mutual passion of Por- 
tia and Bassanio, though unacknowledged to each 
other, anterior to the opening of the play ! Bas- 
sanio's confession very properly comes first : — 


In Belmont is a lady richly left, 

And she is fair, and fairer than that word. 

Of wondrous virtues ; sometimes from her eyes 

I did receive fair speechless messages; 

^ ^ ^ *p 3|£ 

and prepares us for Portia's half-betrayed, un- 
conscious election of this most graceful and chiv- 
alrous admirer — 


Do you not remember, lady, in your father's time, a 
Venetian, a scholar, and a soldier, that came hither in 
company of the Marquis of Montferrat? 


Yes, yes, it was Bassanio ; as I think, so he was called. 


True, madam ; he of all the men that ever my foolish 
eyes looked upon was the best deserving a fair lady. 

14 Sbattespeare's tietolnes. 


1 remember him well ; and I remember him worthy of 
thy praise. 

Our interest is thus awakened for the lovers 
from the very first; and what shall be said of 
the casket scene with Bassanio, where every line 
which Portia speaks is so worthy of herself, so 
full of sentiment and beauty, and poetry, and pas- 
sion ? Too naturally frank for disguise, too mod- 
est to confess her depth of love while the issue 
of the trial remains in suspense, the conflict be- 
tween love and fear, and maidenly dignity, cause 
the most delicious confusion that ever tinged a 
woman's cheek or dropped in broken utterance 
from her lips. 

I pray you, tarry; pause a day or two. 
Before you hazard; for in choosing wrong, 
I lose your company ; therefore, forbear awhile ; 
There's something tells me, (but it is not love), 
I would not lose you ; and you know yourself. 
Hate counsels not in such a quality : 
But lest you should not understand me well, 
(And yet a maiden hath no tongue but thought), 
I would detain you here some month or two 
Before you venture for me. I could teach you 
How to choose right,: — ^but then I am forsworn ; — 
So will I never be; so you may miss me; — 
But if you do, you'll make me wish a sin, 
That I had been forsworn. Beshrew your eyes, 
They have o'erlooked me, and divided me ; 
One-half of me is yours, the other half yours, — 
Mine own, I would say ; but if mine, then yours, 
And so all yours ! 

The short dialogue between the lovers is ex- 

poctia. 15 


Let me choose; 
For, as I am, I live upon the rack. 

Upon the rack, Bassanio? Then confess 
What treason there is mingled with your love. 


None, but that ugly treason of mistrust. 
Which makes me fear the enjoying of my love. 
There may as well be amity and life 
'Tween snow and fire, as treason and my love. 

Ay ! but I fear you speak upon the rack. 
Where men enforced do speak anything. 


Promise me life, and I'll confess the truth. 


Well then, confess, and live. 


Confess and love 
Had been the very sum of my confession! 
O happy torment, when my torturer 
Doth teach me answers for deliverance ! 

A prominent feature in Portia's character is 
that confiding, buoyant spirit which mingles with 
all her thoughts and affections. And here let 
me observe, that I never yet met in real life, 
nor ever read in tale or history, of any woman, 
distinguished for intellect of the highest order, 
who was not also remarkable for this trusting 
spirit, this hopefulness and cheerfulness of tem- 

16 Sba?(e0peace'0 l&etofnes. 

per, wliich is compatible with the most serious 
habits of thought and the most profound sen- 
sibility. Lady Wortley Montagu was one in- 
stance; and Madame de Stael furnishes another 
much more memorable. In her Corinne, whom 
she drew from herself, this natural brightness of 
temper is a prominent part of the character. A 
disposition to doubt, to suspiect, and to despond, 
in the young, argues, in general, some inherent 
weakness, moral or physical, or some miserable 
and radical error of education ; in the old, it is one 
of the first symptoms of age : it speaks of the in- 
fluence of sorrow and experience, and foreshows 
the decay of the stronger and more generous 
powers of the soul. Portia's strength of intel- 
lect takes a natural tinge from the flush and 
bloom of her young and prosperous existence, 
and from her fervid imagination. In the casket 
scene, she fears indeed the issue of the trial, on 
which more than her life is hazarded ; but while 
she trembles, her hope is stronger than her fear. 
While Bassanio is contemplating the caskets, she 
suffers herself to dwell for one moment on the 
possibility of disappointment and misery. 

Let music sound while he doth make his choice ; 
Then if he lose, he makes a swan-like end. 
Fading in music : that the comparison 
May stand more proper, my eye shall be the stream 
And wat'ry death-bed for him. 

Then immediately follows that revulsion of 
feeling, so beautifully characteristic of the hope- 
ful, trusting, mounting spirit of this noble crea- 

Portia. 17 

But he may win! 
And what is music then? — then music is 
Even as the flourish, when true subjects bow 
To a new-crowned monarch : such it is 
As are those dulcet sounds at break of day 
That creep into the dreaming bridegroom's ear 
And summon him to marriage. Now he goes 
With no less presence, but with much more love, 
Than young Alcides, when he did redeem 
The virgin tribute paid by howling Troy 
To the sea monster. I stand here for sacrifice. 

Here, not only the feeling itself, born of the 
elastic and sanguine spirit which had never been 
touched by grief; but the images in which it 
comes arrayed to her fancy, — the bridegroom 
waked by music on his wedding-morn, — the new- 
crowned monarch, — the comparison of Bassanio 
to the young Alcides, and of herself to the daugh- 
ter of Laomedon, are all precisely what would 
have suggested themselves to the fine poetical 
imagination of Portia in such a moment. 

Her passionate exclamations of delight when 
Bassanio has fixed on the right casket, are as 
strong as though she had despaired before. Fear 
and doubt she could repel ; — the native elasticity 
of her mind bore up against them ; yet she makes 
us feel that, as the sudden joy overpowers her 
almost to fainting, the disappointment would as 
certainly have killed her. 

How all the other passions fleet to air, 
As doubtful thoughts, and rash-embrac'd despair, 
And shudd'ring fear, and green-ey'd jealousy! 
O love I be moderate, allay thy ecstasy ; 

18 Sbaftespeatc's Ibetoinea. 

In measure rain thy joy, scant this excess: 
I feel too much thy blessing; make it less, 
For fear I surfeit ! 

Her subsequent surrender of herself in heart " 
and soul, of her maiden freedom, and her vast 
possessions, can never be read without deep emo- ' 
tion ; for not only all the tenderness and delicacy 
of a devoted woman are here blended with all 
the dignity which becomes the princely heiress, 
of Belmont, but the serious, measured self-pos- 
session of her address to her lover, when all sus- 
pense is over, and all concealment superfluous, 
is most beautifully consistent with the charac- ' 
ter. It isj-tn-truth^ an awful moment, that in ■ 
which a gifted wOTmBifii-st -discovers, that, be- 
sides talents and powera,-&he-lias^- also passions ' 
and affections; when she-first Jiegins to suspect 
their vast importance in the sum of her exist- 
ence; when she first confeSses-4hat her happi- 
ness is no longer in her own=keeping, but is sur- 
rendered for ever and for^ever into the domin-' 
ion of another! The possession of uncommon 
powers of mind are so far from affording relief, 
or resource in the first intoxicating surprise — I. 
had almost said terror — of such a revolution, that 
they render it more intense. The sources of 
thought multiply beyond calculation the sources 
of feeling; and mingled, they rush together, a 
torrent as deep as strong. Because Portia is en- 
dued with that enlarged comprehension which 
looks before and after, she does not feel the less, 
but the more: because from the height of her 

portfa. 19 

commanding intellect she can contemplate the 
force, the tendency, the consequences of her own 
sentiments — ^because she is fully sensible of her 
own situation and the value of all she concedes 
— the concession is not made with less entire- 
ness and devotion of heart, less confidence in the 
truth and worth of her lover, than when Juliet, 
in a similar moment, but without any such in- 
trusive reflections — any check but the instinctive 
delicacy of her sex, flings herself and her fortunes' 
at the feet of her lover : 

And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay, 

And follow thee, my lord, through all the world* 

In Portia's confession, which is not breathed 
from a moon-lit balcony, but spoken openly in 
the presence of her attendants and vassals, there 
is nothing of the passionate self-abandonment of 
Juliet, nor of the artless simplicity of Miranda, 
but a consciousness and a tender seriousness, ap- 
. proaching to solemnity, which are not less touch- 

You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand, 

Such as I am: though for myself alone 

I would not be ambitious in my wish 

To wish myself much better ; yet, for you, 

I would be trebled twenty times myself; 

A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times 

More rich; that only to stand high in your account, 

I might in virtues, beauties, livings, friends 

Exceed account; but the full sum of me 

Is sum of something; which to term in gross, 

* "Romeo and Juliet," act ii. scene 2. 

20 Sbaftcspeare's Detofnes. 

Is an unlesson'd girl, unschobl'd, unpractised, 

Happy in this, she is not yet so old 

But she may learn ; and happier than this. 

She is not bred so dull but she can learn; 

Happiest of all is, that her gentle spirit 

Commits itself to yours to be directed. 

As from her lord, her governor, her king. 

Myself, and what is mine, to you and yours \ 

Is now converted. But now I was the lord 

Of this fair mansion, master of my servants. 

Queen o'er myself; and even now, but now. 

This house, these servants, and this same myself. 

Are yours, my lord. 

We must also remark that the sweetness, the 
solicitude, the subdued fondness which she after- 
wards displays relative to the letter, are as true 
to the softness of her sex as the generous self- 
denial with which she urges the departure of 
Bassanio (having first given him a husband's 
right over herself and all her countless wealth) 
is consistent with a reflecting mind, and a spirit 
at once tender, reasonable, and magnanimous. 

It is not only in the trial scene that Portia's 
acuteness, eloquence, and lively intelligence are 
revealed to us ; they are displayed in the first in- 
stance, and kept up consistently to the end. Her 
reflections, arising from the most usual aspects 
of nature and from the commonest incidents of 
life, are in such a poetical spirit, and are at the 
same time so pointed, so profound, that they have 
passed into familiar and daily application with 
all the force of proverbs. 

If to do were as easy as to know what were good to 
do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages 
princes' palaces. 

pottfa. 21 

I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, 
than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching. 

The crow doth sing as sweetly as the lark, 
When neither is attended; and I think 
The nightingale, if she should sing by day. 
When every goose is cackling, would be thought 
No better a musician than the wren. 
How many things by season seasoned are 
To their right praise and true perfection! 

How far that little candle throws his beams! 
So shines a good deed in a naughty world. 
A substitute shines as brightly as a king. 
Until a king be by ; and then his state 
Empties itself, as doth an inland brook 
Into the main of waters. 

Her reflections on the friendship between her 
husband and Antonio are as full of deep mean- 
ing as of tenderness ; and her portrait of a young 
coxcomb, in the same scene, is touched with a 
truth and spirit which show with what a keen 
observing eye she has looked upon men and 

■ I'll hold thee any wager. 

When we are both accoutred like young men, 

I'll prove the prettier fellow of the two. 

And wear my dagger with a braver grace; 

And speak between the change of man and boy 

With a reed voice ; and turn two mincing steps 

Into a manly stride ; a,nd speak of frays 

Like a fine bragging youth ; and tell quaint lies — 

How honourable ladies sought my love. 

Which I denying, they fell sick and died; 

I could not do with all: then I'll repent. 

And wish, for all that, that I had not killed them : 

And twenty of these puny lies I'll tell. 

That men shall swear I have discontinued school 

Above a twelvemonth. 

22 Sbaftespeare's "Iberolnca. 

And in the description of her various suitors, 
in the first scene with Nerissa, what infinite 
power, wit, and vivacity! She half checks her- 
self as she is about to give the reins to her sport- 
ive humor: "In truth, I know it is a sin to be 
a mocker." But if it carries her away, it is so 
perfectly good-natured, so temperately bright, so 
lady-like, it is ever without offence; and so far 
most unlike the satirical, poignant, unsparing wit 
of Beatrice, "misprising what she looks on." In 
fact, I can scarce conceive a greater contrast 
than between the vivacity of Portia and the 
vivacity of Beatrice. Portia, with all her airy 
brilliance, is supremely soft and dignified ; every- 
thing she says or does displays her capability for 
profound thought and feeling as well as her lively 
and romantic disposition; and as I have seen in 
an Italian garden a fountain flinging round its 
wreaths of showery light, while the many-col- 
ored Iris hung brooding above it, in its calm and 
soul- felt glory; so in Portia the wit is ever kept 
subordinate to the poetry, and we still feel the 
tender, the intellectual, and the imaginative part 
of the character, as superior to, and presiding 
over, its spirit and vivacity. 

*In the last act, Shylock and his machinations 
being dismissed from our thoughts, and the rest 
of the dramatis personce assembled together at 
Belmont, all our interest and all our attention 
are rivetted on Portia, and the conclusion leaves 
the most delightful impression on the fancy. The 
playful equivoque of the rings, the sportive trick 
she puts on her husband, and her thorough en- 

^ottfa. 23 

joyment of the jest, which she checks just as it 
is proceeding beyond the bounds of propriety, 
show how little she was displeased by the sac- 
rifice of her gift, and are all consistent with her 
bright and buoyant spirit. In conclusion, when 
Portia invites her company to enter her palace 
to refresh themselves after their travels, and talk 
over "these events at full," the imagination, un- 
willing to lose sight of the brilliant group, fol- 
lows them in gay procession from the lovely 
moonlight garden to marble halls and princely 
revels, to splendor and festive mirth, to love and 
happiness ! 

Many women have possessed many of those 
qualities which render Portia so delightful. She 
is in herself a piece of reality, in whose possible 
existence we have no doubt; and yet a human 
being, in whom the moral, intellectual, and sen- 
tient faculties should be so exquisitely blended 
and proportioned to each other — and these again, 
in harmony with all outward aspects and influ- 
ences — probably never existed ; certainly could not 
now exist. A woman constituted like Portia, and 
placed in this age and in the actual state of so- 
ciety, would find society armed against her; and 
instead of being like Portia, a gracious, happy, 
beloved, and loving creature, would be a victim, 
immolated in fire to that multitudinous Moloch 
termed Opinion. With her, the world without 
would be at war with the world within: in the 
perpetual strife, either her nature would "be sub- 
dued to the element it worked in," and, bending 
to a necessity it could neither escape nor ap- 

21 SbaTiespeate's Ibetofnes. 

prove, lose at last something of its original 
brightness, or otherwise — a perpetual spirit of 
resistance cherished as a safeguard, might per- 
haps in the end destroy the equipage; firmness 
would become pride and self-assurance, and the 
soft, sweet, feminine texture of the mind settle 
into rigidity. Is there then no sanctuary for 
such a mind ? — Where shall it find a refuge from 
the world? — Where seek for strength against 
itself ? Where, but in heaven ? 

Camiola, in Massinger's "Maid of Honour," is 
said to emulate Portia; and the real story of Ca- 
miola (for she is an historical personage) is very 
beautiful. She was a lady of Messina, who lived 
in the beginning of the fourteenth century; and 
was the contemporary of Queen Joanna, of Pe- 
trarch, and Boccaccio. It fell out in those days that 
Prince Orlando of Arragon, the younger brother 
of the King of Sicily, having taken the command 
of a naval armament against the Neapolitans, 
was defeated, wounded, taken prisoner, and con- 
fined by Robert of Naples (the father of Queen 
Joanna) in one of his strongest castles. As the 
prince had distinguished himself by his enmity 
to the Neapolitans and by many exploits against 
them, his ransom was fixed at an exorbitant sum, 
and his captivity was unusually severe ; while the 
King of Sicily, who had some cause of displeas- 
ure against his brother, and imputed to him the 
defeat of his armament, refused either to nego- 
tiate for his release or to pay the ransom de- 

Orlando, who was celebrated for his fine per- 

Portia. 25 

son and reckless valor, was apparently doomed 
to languish away the rest of his life in a dun- 
geon, when Camiola Turinga, a rich Sicilian heir- 
ess, devoted the half of her fortune to release 
him. But as such an action might expose her to 
evil comments, she made it a condition that Or- 
lando should marry her. The prince gladly ac- 
cepted the terms, and sent her the contract of 
marriage, signed by his hand ; but no sooner was 
he at liberty than he refused to fulfil it, and even 
denied all knowledge of his benefactress. 

Camiola appealed to the tribunal of state, pro- 
duced the written contract, and described the 
obligations she had heaped on this ungrateful and 
ungenerous man: sentence was given against 
him, and he was adjudged to Camiola, not only 
as her rightful husband, but as a property which, 
according to the laws of war in that age, she had 
purchased with her gold. The day of marriage 
was fixed; Orlando presented himself with a 
splendid retinue; Camiola also appeared, dec- 
orated as for her bridal; but instead of bestow- 
ing her hand on the recreant, she reproached him 
in the presence of all with his breach of faith, 
declared her utter contempt for his baseness, and 
then freely bestowing on him the sum paid for 
his ransom, as a gift worthy of his mean soul, 
she turned away, and dedicated herself and her 
heart to heaven. In this resolution she remained 
inflexible, though the king and all the court united 
in entreaties to soften her. She took the veil; 
and Orlando, henceforth regarded as one who 
had stained his knighthood and violated his faith, 

26 SbaTteepeare's Stetoinea. 

passed the rest of his life as a dishonored man, 
and died in obscurity. 

Camiola, in "The Maid of Honour," is, like Por- 
tia, a wealthy heiress, surrounded by suitors, and 
"queen o'er herself :" the character is constructed 
upon' the same principles, as great intellectual 
power, magnanimity of temper, and feminine 
tenderness; but not only do pain and disquiet, 
and the change induced by unkind and inaus- 
picious influences, enter into this sweet picture 
to mar and cloud its happy beauty, but the por- 
trait itself may; be pronounced out of drawing; 
— for Massinger apparently had not sufficient 
delicacy of sentiment to work out his own con- 
ception of the character with perfect consistency. 
In his adaptation of the story he represents the 
mutual love of Orlando and Camiola as exist- 
ing previous to the captivity of the former, 
and on his part declared with many vows of eter- 
nal faith; yet she requires a written contract of 
marriage before she liberates him. It will per- 
haps be said that she has penetrated his weak- 
ness, and anticipates his falsehood. Miserable, 
excuse ! — ^how could a magnanimous woman love 
a man whose falsehood she believes but possible? 
— or loving him, how could she deign to secure 
herself by such means against the consequences? 
Shakespeare and Nature never committed such 
a solecism. Camiola doubts before she has been 
wronged; the firmness and assurance in herself 
border on harshness. What in Portia is the gen- 
tle wisdom of a noble nature appears in Camiola 
too much a spirit of calculation; it savors a lit- 

Portia. 27 

tie of the counting-house. As Portia is the heir- 
ess of Belmont, and Camiola a merchant's daugh- 
ter, the distinction may be proper and character- 
istic, but it is not in favor of Camiola. The con- 
trast may be thus illustrated : 


You have heard of Bertoldo's captivity, and the king's 
neglect, the greatness of his ransom; fifty thousand 
crowns, Adorni! Two parts of my estate! Yet I so 
love the gentleman, for to you I will confess my weak- 
ness, that I purpose now, when he is forsaken by the 
king and his own hopes, to ransom him. 

Maid of Honour, act iii. 


What sum owes he the Jew ? 


For me — ^three thousand ducats. 


iWhat! no more! 

Pay him six thousand and deface the bond. 

Double six thousand, and then treble that. 

Before a friend of this description 

Shall lose a hair thro' my Bassanio's fault. 

— You shall have gold 
To pay the petty debt twenty times o'er. 

Merchant of Venice. 

Camiola, who is a Sicilian, might as well have 
been born at Amsterdam : Portia could only have 
existed in Italy. Portia is profound as she is 
brilliant ; Camiola is sensible and sententious : she 
asserts her dignity very successfully ; but we can- 
not for a moment imagine Portia as reduced to 

28 Sbatsespaare's Iberolncs. 

the necessity of asserting hers. The idiot Sylli, 
in "The Maid of Honour," who follows Camiola 
like one of the deformed dwarfs of old time, is 
an intolerable violation of taste and propriety, 
and it sensibly lowers our impression of the prin- 
cipal character. Shakespeare would never have 
placed Sir Andrew Aguecheek in constant and 
immediate approximation with such a woman as 

Lastly, the charm of the poetical coloring is 
wholly wanting in Camiola, so that when she is 
placed in contrast with the glowing eloquence, 
the luxuriant grace, the buoyant spirit of Portia, 
the effect is somewhat that of coldness and for- 
mality. Notwithstanding the dignity and the 
beauty of Massinger's delineation, and the noble 
self-devotion of Camiola, which I acknowledge 
and admire, the two characters will admit of no 
comparison as sources of contemplation and 



It is observable that something of the intel- 
lectual brilliance of Portia is reflected on the 
other female characters of "The Merchant of 
Venice," so as to preserve in the midst of con- 
trast a certain harmony and keeping. Thus Jes- 
sica, though properly kept subordinate, is cer- . 

A most beautiful Pagan — a most sweet Jew. 

She cannot be called a sketch — or if a sketch, 
she is like one of those dashed off in glowing 
colors from the rainbow palette of a Rubens ; she 

IPottfa. 29 

has a rich tinge of orientalism shed over her, 
worthy of her eastern origin; In any other 
play, and in any other companionship than that 
of the matchless Portia, Jessica would make a 
very beautiful heroine of herself. Nothing can 
be more poetically, more classically fanciful and 
elegant, than the scenes between her and Loren- 
zo; — the celebrated moonlight dialogue, for in- 
stance, which we all have by hfeart. Every sen- 
timent she utters interests us for her — more par- 
ticularly her bashful self-reproach when flying 
in the disguise of a page : 

I am glad 'tis night, you do not look upon me. 
For I am much asham'd of my exchange; 
But love is blind, and lovers cannot see 
The pretty follies that themselves commit; 
For if they could, Cupid himself would blush 
To see me thus transformed to a boy. 

And the enthusiastic and generous testimony to 
the superior graces and accomplishments of Por- 
tia comes with a peculiar grace from her lips : 

Why, if two gods should play some heavenly match, 
And on the wager lay two earthly women. 
And Portia one, there must be something else 
Pawned with the other ; for the poor rude world 
Hath not her fellow. 

We should not, however, easily pardon her for 
cheating her father with so much indifference, 
but for the perception that Shylock values his 
daughter far beneath his wealth: 

30 Sb&keepeatc'B "berofnes; 

I would my daughter were dead at my foot, and the 
jewels in her ear! — ^would she were hearsed at my foot, 
and the ducats in her coffin! 

Nerissa is a good specimen of a common ge- 
nus of characters: she is a clever, confidential 
waiting-woman, who has sought a little of her 
lady's elegance and romance; she affects to be 
lively and sententious, falls in love, and makes 
her favor conditional on the fortune of the cask- 
ets, and, in short, mimics her mistress with good 
emphasis and discretion. Nerissa and the gay, 
talkative Gratiano are as well matched as the in- 
comparable Portia and her magnificent and cap- 
tivating lover. 

fsabella. 81 


The character of Isabella, considered as a po- 
etical delineation, is less mixed than that of Por- 
tia; and the dissimilarity between the two ap- 
pears, at first view, so complete, that we can 
scarce believe that the same elements enter into 
the composition of each. Yet so it is : they are 
portrayed as equally wise, gracious, virtuous, fair 
and young ; we perceive in both the same exalted 
principle and firmness of character, the same 
depth of reflection and persuasive eloquence, the 
same self-denying generosity and capability of 
strong affections; and we must wonder at that 
marvellous power by which qualities and endow- 
ments, essentially and closely allied, are so com- 
bined and modified as to produce a result alto- 
gether different. "O Nature! O Shakespeare! 
which of ye drew from the other ?" 

Isabella is distinguished from Portia, and 
strongly individualized by a certain moral gran-: 
deur, a saintly grace, something of vestal dig- , 
nity and purity, which render her less attractive 
and more imposing; she is "severe in youthful 
beauty," and inspires a reverence which would 
have placed her beyond the daring of one unholy 
wish or thought, except in such a man as An- 
gelo — 

32 SbaftcBpeare's IBctotnee. 

cunning enemy ! that to catch a saint 
With saints dost bait thy hook. 

This impression of her character is conveyed 
from the very first, when Lucio, the libertine 
jester, whose coarse, audacious wit checks at 
every feather, thus expresses his respect for her : 

1 would not — ^though 'tis my familiar sin 
With maids to seem the lapwing, and to jest. 
Tongue far from heart — play with all virgins so. 
I hold you as a thing enskyed and sainted, 

By your renouncement, an immortal spirit. 
And to be talked with in sincerity. 
As with a saint. 

A strong distinction between Isabella and Por- 
tia is produced by the circumstances in which 
they are respectively placed. Portia is a high- 
born heiress, "lord of a fair mansion, master of 
her servants, queen o'er herself;" easy and de- 
cided, as one born to command and used to it. 
Isabella has also the innate dignity which ren- 
ders her "queen o'er herself," but she has lived 
far from the world and its pomps and pleasures ; 
she is one of a consecrated sisterhood — a novice 
of St. Clare; the power to command obedience 
and to confer happiness are to her unknown. 
Portia is a splendid creature, radiant with con- 
fidence, hope, and joy. She is like the orange- 
tree, hung at once with golden fruit and luxu- 
riant flowers, which has expanded into bloom and 
fragrance beneath favoring skies, and has been 
nursed into beauty by the sunshine and the dews 
of heaven. Isabella is like a stately and grace- 

Isabella. 33 

ful cedar, towering on some Alpine cliff, un- 
bowed and unscathed amid the storm. She gives 
us the impression of one who has passed under 
the ennobHng discipline of suffering and self- 
denial: a melancholy charm tempers the natural 
vigor of her mind : her spirit seems to stand upon 
an eminence, and look down upon the world as 
if already enskyed and sainted; and yet, when 
brought in contact with that world which she in- 
wardly despises, she shrinks back with all the 
timidity natural to her cloistral education. 

This union of natural grace and grandeur with 
the habits and sentiments of a recluse, — of aus- 
terity of life with gentleness of manner, — of in- 
flexible moral principle with humility and even 
bashfulness of deportment, is delineated with the 
most beautiful and wonderful consistency. Thus, 
when her brother sends to her to entreat her 
mediation, her first feeling is fear, and a distrust 
in her own powers ; 

Alas ! what poor ability's in me 
To do him good? 

Essay the power you have. 


My power, alas! I doubt. 

In the first scene with Angelo she seems di- 
vided between her love for her brother and her 
sense of his fault; between her self-respect and 
her maidenly bashfulness. She begins with a 

34 Sbaftcspearc'a Iberolnes. 

kind of hesitation, "at war 'twixt will and will 
not:" and when Angelo quotes the law, and in- 
sists on the justice of his sentence and the re- 
sponsibility of his station, her native sense of 
moral rectitude and severe principles takes the 
lead, and she shrinks back : 

O just, but severe law ! 
I had a brother then — Heaven keep your honour ! 


Excited and encouraged by Lucio, and sup- 
ported by her own natural spirit, she returns to 
the charge, — she gains energy and self-posses- 
sion as she proceeds, grows more earnest and 
passionate from the difficulty she encounters, and 
displays that eloquence and power of reasoning 
for which we had been already prepared by Clau- 
dio's first allusion to her : 

In her youth 
There is a prone and speechless dialect. 
Such as moves men ; besides, she hath prosperous art. 
When she will play with reason and discourse. 
And well she can persuade. 

It is' a curious coincidence that Isabella, ex- 
horting Angelo to mercy, avails herself of pre- 
cisely the same arguments and insists on the self- 
same topics which Portia addressed to Shylock 
in her celebrated speech ; but how beautifully and 
how truly is the distinction marked! how like, 
and yet how unlike! Portia's eulogy on mercy 
is a piece of heavenly rhetoric; it falls on the 
ear with a solemn measured harmony; it is the 

fsabella. 35 

voice of a descended angel addressiiig an infe- 
rior nature: if not premeditated, it is at least 
part of a preconcerted scheme; while Isabella's 
pleadings are poured from the abundance of her 
heart in broken sentences, and with the artless ve- 
hemence of one who feels that life and death 
hang upon her appeal. This will be best un- 
derstood by placing the corresponding passages 
in immediate comparison with each other: 


The quality of mercy is not strain'd, 

It droppeth as the gentle dew from heaven 

Upon the place beneath : it is twice bless'd ; 

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: 

'Tis mightiest in the mightiest ; it becomes 

The throned monarch better than his crown; 

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, 

The attribute to awe and majesty. 

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; 

But mercy is above this sceptred sway — 

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings. 


Well, believe this. 
No ceremony that to great ones 'longs. 
Not the king's crown, nor the deputed sword. 
The marshal's truncheon, nor the judge's robe. 
Become them with one half so good a grace 
As mercy does. 


Consider this — 
That in the course of justice none of us 
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy ; 
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render 
The deeds of mercy. 

36 Sbalteapeare's 'f>ecofnes. 


Alas ! alas ! 
Why all the souls that are were forfeit once; 
And He, that might the 'vantage best have took, 
Found out the remedy. How would you be, 
If He, which is the top of judgment, should 
But judge you as you are? O, think on that; 
And mercy then will breathe within your lips. 
Like man new made. 

The beautiful things which Isabella is made 
to utter have, like the sayings of Portia, become 
proverbial: but in spirit and character they are 
as distinct as are the two women. In all that 
Portia says we confess the power of a rich poet- 
ical imagination, blended with a quick practical 
spirit of observation, familiar with the surfaces 
of things, '.while there is a profound yet simple 
morality, a depth of religious' feeling, a touch of 
melancholy, in Isabella's sentiments, and some- 
thing earnest and authoritative in the manner 
and expression, as though they had grown up 
in her mind from long and deep meditation in 
the silence and solitude of her convent cell: 

O, it is excellent 
To havtf a giant's strength ; biit it is tyrannous 
To use it like a giant. 

Could great men thunder 
As Jove himself does, Jove would ne'er be quiet: 
For every pelting, petty officer 

Would use his heaven for thunder ; nothing but thunder. 
Merciful Heaven! 

Thou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt 
Split' st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak 

Ifsabella. 37 

Than the soft myrtle. O but man, proud man! 

Drest in a little brief authority. 

Most ignorant of what he's most assur'd. 

His glassy essence, like an angry ape. 

Plays such fantastic tricks before high Heaven, 

As make the angels weep. 

Great men may jest with saints, 'tis wit in them; 

But in the less, foul profanation. 

That in the captain's but a choleri" word. 

Which in the soldier is flat blasphemy. 

Authority, although it err like others. 

Hath yet a kind of medicine in itself. 

That skins the vice o' the top. Go to your bosom ; 
■ Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know 

That's like my brother's fault : if it confess 
• A natural guiltiness, such as his is. 

Let it not sound a thought upon your tongue 
. Against my brother's life. 

Let me be ignorant, and in nothing good, 
But graciously to know I am no' better. 

The sense of death is most in apprehension ; 
And the poor beetle, that we tread upon. 
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great 
As when a giant dies! 

'Tis not impossible 
But one, the wicked'st caitiff on the ground. 
May seem as shy, as grave, as just, as absolute 
As Angelo: even so may Angelo, 
In all his dressings, characts, titles, forms. 
Be an arch villain. 

Her fine powers of reasoning, and that nat- 
ural uprightness and purity which no sophistry 
can warp, and no allurement betray, are farther 
displayed in the second scene with Angelo. 

38 Sbafieapeate's Ibecolnes. 


vWhat would you do? 


As much for my poor brother as myself; 
That is, were I under the terms of death. 
The impression of keen whips I'd wear as rubies. 
And strip myself to death, as to a bed 
That, longing, I have been sick for, ere I'd yield 
My body up to shame. 


Then must your brother die. 


And 'twere the cheaper way: 
Better it were a brother died at once. 
Than that a sister, by redeeming him. 
Should die for ever. 

Were not you then as cruel as the sentence 
That you have slandered so? 


Ignominy in ransom, and free pardon 
Are of two houses : lawful mercy is 
Nothing akin to foul redemption. 


You seem'd of late to make the law a tyrant; 
And rather prov'd the sliding of your brother 
A merriment than a vice. 


O, pardon me, my lord; it oft falls out. 

To have what we would have, we speak not what 

we mean: 
I something do excuse the thing I hate. 
For his advantage that I dearly love. 

ITsabella. 89 

Towards the conclusion of the play we have 
another instance of that rigid sense of justice 
which is a prominent part of Isabella's charac- 
ter, and almost silences her earnest intercession 
for her brother, when his fault is placed between 
her plea and her conscience. The Duke con- 
demns the villain Angelo to death, and his wife 
Mariana entreats Isabella to plead for him. 

Sweet Isabel, take my part, 
Lend me your knees, and all my life to come 
I'll lend you all my life to do you service. 

Isabella remains silent and Mariana reiterates 
her prayer. 


Sweet Isabel, do yet but kneel by me. 

Hold up your hands, say nothing, I'll speak all I 

O Isabel ! will you not lend a knee ? 

Isabella, thus urged, breaks silence, and ap- 
peals to the Duke, not with supplication, or per- 
suasion, but with grave argument, and a kind 
of dignified humility and conscious power, which 
are finely characteristic of the individual woman. 

Most bounteous sir 
Look, if it please you, on this man condemn'd. 
As if my brother liv'd ; I partly think 
A due sincerity governed his deeds 
Till he did look on me: since it is so. 
Let him not die. My brother had but justice. 
In that he did the thing for which he died. 
For Angelo, 

His art did not o'ertake his bad intent. 
That perish'd by the way ; thoughts are no subjects. 
Intents but merely thoughts. 


40 Sbalftespeare's Iberoines. 

In this instance, as in the one before mentioned, 
Isabella's conscientiousness is overcome by the 
only sentiment which ought to temper justice into 
mercy, the power of affection and sympathy. 

Isabella's confession of the general frailty of 
her sex has a peculiar softness, beauty, and pro- 
priety. She admits the imputation with all the 
sympathy of woman for woman ; yet with all the 
dignity of one who felt her own superiority to 
the weakness she acknowledges. 


Nay, women are frail, too. 


Ay, as the glasses where they view themselves; 
Which are as easy broke as they make forms. 
Women ! help heaven ! men their creation mar 
In profiting (by them. Nay, call us ten times frail; 
For we are soft as our complexions are. 
And credulous to false prints. 

Nor should we fail to remark the deeper in- 
terest which is thrown round Isabella by one part 
of her character, which is betrayed rather than 
exhibited in the progress of the action; and for, 
which we are not at first prepared, though it is 
so perfectly natural. It is the strong undercur- 
rent of passion and enthusiasm flowing beneath 
this calm and saintly self-possession, it is the 
capacity for high feeling and generous and strong 
indignation veiled beneath the sweet austere com- 
posure of the religious recluse, which, by the 
very force of contrast, powerfully impress the 
imagination. As we see in real life that where, 

Teabella. 41 

iroin some external or habitual cause, a strong 
control is exercised over naturally quick feel- 
ings and an impetuous temper, they display them- 
selves with a proportionate vehemence when that 
restraint is removed; so the very violence with 
which her passion bursts forth, when opposed 
or under the influence of strong excitement, is 
admirably characteristic. 

Thus in her exclamation, when she first allows 
herself to perceive Angelo's vile design — 


Ha! little honour to be much believ'd, 

And most pernicious purpose ! — seeming ! — seeming ! 

I will proclaim thee, Angelo : look for it ! 

Sign me a present pardon for my brother. 

Or, with an outstretch'd throat, I'll tell the world 

Aloud, what man thou art! 

And again, where she finds that the "outward 
sainted deputy" has deceived her — 

O, I will to him, and pluck out his eyes! 
Unhappy Claudio! wretched Isabel! 
Injurious world ! most damned Angelo ! 

She places at first a strong and high-souled 
confidence in her brother's fortitude and magna- 
nimity/ judging him by her own lofty spirit: 

I'll to my brother; ' 

Though he hath fallen by prompture of the blood. 
Yet hath he in him such a mind of honour. 
That had he twenty heads to tender down 
On twenty bloody blocks, he'd yield them up. 
Before his sister should her body stoop 
To such abhorr'd pollution. 

42 Bb&licsveate's fjeroines. 

But when her trust in his honor is deceived by 
his momentary weakness, her scorn has a bitter- 
ness and her indignation a force of expression 
almost fearful; and both are carried to an ex- 
treme, which is perfectly in character: 

O faithless coward! O dishonest wretch! 

Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice? 

Is't not a kind of incest to take life 

From thine own sister's shame? What should I think? 

Heaven shield my mother play'd my father fair ! 

For such a warped slip of wilderness 

Ne'er issued from his blood. Take my defiance : 

Die ! perish I Might but my bending down 

Reprieve thee from thy fate, it should proceed. 

I'll pray a thousand prayers for thy death. 

No word to save thee. 

The whole of this scene with Claudio is inex- 
pressibly grand in the poetry and the sentiment; 
and the entire play abounds in those passages 
and phrases which must have become trite from 
familiar and constant use and abuse, if their wis- 
dom and unequalled beauty did not invest them 
with an immortal freshness and vigor, and a per- 
petual charm. 

The story of "Measure for Measure" is a tradi- 
tion of great antiquity, of which there are sev- 
eral ^ versions, narrative and dramatic. A con- 
temptible tragedy, the "Promos and Cassandra" 
of George Whetstone, is supposed, from various 
coincidences, to have furnished Shakespeare with 
the groundwork of the play; but the character 
of Isabella is, in conception and execution, all his 
own. The commentators have collected with in- 

fsabelta. 43 

finite industry all the sources of the plot ; but to 
the grand creation of Isabella they award either 
silence or worse than silence. Johnson, and the 
rest of the black-letter crew, pass her over without 
a word. One critic, a lady-critic too, whose name 
I will be so merciful as to suppress, treats Isa- 
bella as a coarse vixen. Hazlitt, with that strange 
perversion of sentiment and want of taste which 
sometimes mingle with his piercing and power- 
ful intellect, dismisses'^Isabella with a slight re- 
mark, that "we are not greatly enamoured of 
her rigid chastity, nor can feel much confidence 
in the virtue that is sublimely good at another's 
expense." What shall we answer to such crit- 
icism? Upon what ground can we read the play 
from beginning to end, and doubt the angel- 
purity of Isabella, or contemplate her possible 
lapse from virtue? Such gratuitous mistrust is 
here a sin against the light of heaven. 

Having waste ground enough, 
Shall we desire to raze the sanctuary. 
And pitch our evils there? 

Professor Richardson is more just, and truly - 
sums up her character as "amiable, pious, sensi- 
ble, resolute, determined, and eloquent;" but his 
remarks are rather superficial. 

Schlegel's observations are also brief and gen- 
eral, and in no way distinguish Isabella from 
many other characters; neither did his plan al- 
low him to be more minute. Of the play alto- 
gether, he observes very beautifully "that the 
title 'Measure for Measure' is in reality a misno- 

44 Sbafteepeare's Ibctoincs. 

mer, the sense of the whole being properly the 
triumph of mercy over strict Justice;" but it is 
also true that there is "an original sin in the na- 
ture of the subject, which prevents us from tak- 
ing a cordial interest in it." Of all the charac- 
ters, Isabella alone has our sympathy. But 
though she triumphs in the conclusion, her tri- 
umph is not produced in a pleasing manner. 
There are too many disguises and tricks, too 
many "by-paths' and indirect crooked ways," to 
conduct us to the natural and foreseen catas- 
trophe, which the Duke's presence throughout 
renders inevitable. This Duke seems to have a 
predilection for bringing about justice by a most 
unjustifiable succession of falsehoods and coun- 
terplots. He really deserves Lucio's satirical des- 
ignation, who somewhere styles him "The Fan- 
tastical Duke of Dark Corners." But Isabella 
is' ever consistent in her pure and upright sim- 
plicity, and in the midst of this simulation, ex- 
presses a characteristic disapprobation of the part 
she is made to play : 

To speak so indirectly I am loth: 
I would say the truth.' 

She yields to the supposed Friar with a kind 
of forced docility, because her situation as a re- 
ligious' novice, and his station, habit, and author- 
ity, as her spiritual director, demand this sacri- 
fice. In the end we are made to feel that her 
transition from the convent to the throne has 
but placed this noble creature in her natural 

' Act iv. scene 5. 

Teabella. 45 

sphere ; for though Isabella, as Duchess of Vien- 
na, could not more command our highest rev- 
erence than Isabel the novice of Saint Clare, yet 
. a wider range of usefulness and benevolence, of 
trial and action, was better suited to the large 
capacity, the ardent affections, the energetic in- 
tellect and firm principle of such a woman as Isa- 
bella, than the walls of a cloister. The philo- 
sophical Duke observes in the very first scene: 

Spirits are not finely touched, 
But to fine issues: nor Nature never lends 
: The smallest scruple of her excellence. 

But like a thrifty goddess she determines. 
Herself the glory of a creditor. 
Both thanks and use." 

This profound and beautiful sentiment is il- 
lustrated in the character and destiny of Isabella. 
She says, of herself, that "she has spirit to act 
whatever her heart approves;" and what her 
heart approves we know. 

In the convent (which may stand here poetic- 
ally for any narrow and obscure situation in which 
such a woman might be placed) Isabella would 
not have been unhappy, but happiness would 
have been the result of an effort, or of the con- 
centration of her great mental powers to some 
particular purpose; as St. Theresa's intellect, en- 
thusiasm, tenderness, restless activity, and burn- 
ing eloquence, governed by one overpowering 
sentiment of devotion, rendered her the most 
extraordinary of saints. Isabella, like St. The- 
resa, complains that the rules of her order are 

* Use, i.e. usury, interest. 

46 SbaTiespeate's f)eroine0. 

not sufficiently severe, and from the same cause, 
— ^that from the consciousness of strong in- 
tellectual and imaginative power, and of over- 
flowing sensibility, she desires a more "strict re- 
straint," or, from the continual involuntary strug- 
gle against the trammels imposed, feels its ne- 


And have you nuns no further privileges? 


Are not these large enough? 


Yes, truly; I speak, not as desiring more. 
But rather wishing a more strict restraint 
Upon the sisterhood. 

Such women as Desdemona and Ophelia would 
have passed their lives in the seclusion of a nun- 
nery without wishing, like Isabella, for stricter 
bonds, or planning, like St. Theresa, the reforma- 
tion of their order, simply because any restraint 
would have been efficient, as far as they were 
concerned. Isabella, "dedicate to nothing tem- 
poral," might have found resignation through 
self-government, or have become a religious en- 
thusiast while "place and greatness" would have 
appeared to her strong and upright mind only 
a more extended field of action, a trust and a 
trial. The mere trappings of power and state, 
the gemmed coronal, the ermined robe, she would 
have regarded as the outward emblems of her 



earthly profession; and would have worn them 
with as much simplicity as her novice's hood and 
scapular; still, under whatever guise she might 
tread this thorny world, the same "angel of light." 

is Sbafteapeare's t)eto(ne0. 


Shakespeare has exhibited in Beatrice a spir- 
ited and faithful portrait of the fine lady of his 
own time. The deportment, language, manners, 
and allusions are those of a particular class in 
a particular age; but the individual and dramatic 
character which forms the groundwork is 
strongly discriminated, and being taken from 
general nature, belongs to every age. In_£.ea;;_ 
trice-Jugh-iiitelleet and high- animal spirits meet, 
and exdte each other like fire and air. In her 
wit (which is brilliant without being imaginative)- 
there is a touch of insolence, not unfrequent in 
women when the wit predominates over reflec- 
tion and imagination. In her temper, too, there 
is a slight infusion of the termagant; and her 
satirical humor plays with such an unrespective 
levity over all subjects alike, that it required a 
profound knowledge of women to bring such a 
character within the pale of our sympathy. But 
Beatrice, though wilful, is not wayward; she is 
volatile, not unfeeling. She has riot only an ex- 
uberance of wit andi^gaiety, but of heart, and soul, 
and energy of spirit ^ird-is no more like, the fine 
ladies of modern comedy, — whose wit consists 
in a temporary allusion or a play upon words. 

;»eatcfce. 49 

and whose petulance is displayed in a toss of the 
head, a flirt of the fan, or a flourish of the pocket- 
handkerchief, — ^than one of our modern dandies 
is like Sir Philip Sydney. , 

In Beatrice Shakespeare has contrived that the 
poetry of the character shall not only soften, but 
iieighten its comic effect. We are not only in- 
clined to forgive Beatrice all her scornful airs, 
all her biting jests, all her assumption of supe- 
riority; but they amuse and delight us the more, 
when we find her, with all the headlong simplicity 
of a child, falling at once into the snare laid for 
her affections'; when we see her, who thought 
a man of God's making not good enough for 
her, who disdained to be o'ermastered by "a piece 
of valiant dust," stooping like the rest of her 
sex, vailing her proud spirit, and taming her 
wild heart to the loving hand of him whom she 
had scorned, flouted, and misused, "past the en- 
durance of a block." And we are yet more com- 
pletely won by her generous, enthusiastic attach- 
ment to her cousin. When the father of Hero 
believes the tale of her guilt ; when Claudio, her 
lover, without remorse or a lingering doubt, con- 
signs her to shame; when the Friar remains si- 
lent, and the generous Benedick himself knows 
not what to say, Beatrice, confident in her affec- 
tions, and guided only by the impulses of her 
own feminine heart, sees through the incon- 
sistency, the impossibility of the charge, and ex- 
claims, without a moment's hesitation, 

O, on my soul, my cousin is belied! 

50 Sbaftespeate'0 feetoines. 

Schlegel, in his remarks on the play of "Much 
Ado about Nothing," has given us an amusing 
instance of that sense of reality with which we 
are impressed by Shakespeare's characters. He 
says of Benedick and Beatrice, as if he had known 
them personally, that the exclusive direction of 
their pointed raillery against each other "is a 
proof of a growing inclination." This is not un- 
likely; and the same inference would lead us to 
suppose that this mutual inclination had com- 
menced before the opening of the play. The 
very first words uttered by Beatrice are an in- 
quiry after Benedick, though expressed with her 
usual arch impertinence : — 

I pray you, is Signior Montanto returned from the 
wars, or no? 

I pray you, how many hath he killed and eaten in 
these wars? But how many hath he killed? for indeed 
I promised to eat all of his killing. 

And in the unprovoked hostility with which she 
falls upon him in his absence, in the pertinacity 
and bitterness of her satire, there is certainly 
great argument that he occupies much more of 
her thoughts than she would have been willing 
to confess, even to herself. In the same man- 
ner, Benedick betrays a lurking partiality for his . 
fascinating enemy; he shows that he has looked 
upon her with no careless eye, when he says, 

There's her cousin (meaning Beatrice), an she were 
not possessed with a fury, excels her as much in beauty 
as the first of May does the last of December. 

JBeatrfce. 51 

Infinite skill, as well as humor, is shown in 
making this pair of airy beings the exact coun- 
terpart of each other ; but of the two portraits, 
thafof Benedick is by far the most pleasing, be- 
cause the i ndependence and g ay in difference of 
temgeri" the laughing jle%nc£jof love and mar- 
riage, the satirical freedom of expression, com- 
mon to both, are more becoming to the mascu- 
line than to the feminine character. Any woman 
might love such a cavalier as Benedick, and be 
proud of his affection ; his valor, his wit, and his 
gaiety sit so gracefully upon him! and his light 
scoffs against the power of love are but just suf- 
ficient to render more piquant the conquest of 
this "heretic in despite of beauty." But a man 
might well be pardoned who should shrink from 
encountering such a spirit as that of Beatrice, 
unless, indeed, he had "served an apprenticeship 
to the taming school." The wit of Beatrice is less 
good-humored than that pF Benedick ^ oT, froni 
"the difference of sex, appears so. It is observ- 
able, that th^power is throughout on her side, 
and the sympathy and interest on his : which, by 
reversing the usual order of things, seems to 
excite us against the grain, if I may use such 
an expression. In all their encounters she con- 
stantly gets the better of him, and the gentle- 
man's wits go off halting, if he is not himself 
fairly hors de combat. Beatrice, woman like, 
generally has the first -word, and will have the 

Thus, when they first meet, she begins by pro- 
voking the merry warfare: 

52 Sbaftespeare's Iberoincs. 

I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Bene- 
dick; nobody marks you. 


,What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living? 


Is it possible Disdain should die, while she hath such 
meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy 
itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her pres- 

It is clear that she cannot for a moment en- 
dure his neglect, and he can as little tolerate her 
scorn. Nothing that Benedick addresses to Bea- 
trice personally can equal the malicious force of 
some of her attacks upon him: he is either re- 
strained by a feeling of natural gallantry, little 
as she deserves the consideration due to her sex 
(for a female satirist ever places herself beyond 
the pale of such forbearance), or he is subdued 
by her superior volubility. He revenges him- 
self, however, in her absence : he abuses her with 
such a variety of comic invective, and pours forth 
his pent-up wrath with such a ludicrous extrav- 
agance and exaggeration, that he betrays at once 
how deep is his mortification, and how unreal his 

In the midst of all this tilting and sparring of 
their nimble and fiery wits, we find them infinitely 
anxious for the good opinion of each other, and 
secretly impatient of each' other's scorn : but Bea- 
trice is. the most truly indifferent of the two, the 
most assured of herself. The comic effect pro- 
duced by their mutual attachment, which, how- 

SBeattfcc. 53 

ever natural and expected, comes upon us with 
all the force of a surprise, cannot be surpassed; 
and how exquisitely characteristic the mutual 
avowal ! 


By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me. 


Do not swear by it, and eat it 


I will swear by it that you love me; and I will make 
him eat it that says I love not you. 


Will you not eat your word? 


With no sauce that can be devised to it: I protest I 
love thee. 


Why, then, God forgive me! 


What offence, sweet Beatrice? 


You stayed me in a happy hour. I was about to pro- 
iest I loved you. 


And do it with all thy heart 


I love you with so much of my heart, that there is 
none left to protest 

54 Sbafiespeate'e ibetoines. 

But here again the dominion rests with Bea- 
trice, and she appears in a less amiable light than 
her lover. Benedick surrenders his whole heart 
to her and to his new passion. The revulsion 
of feeling even causes it to overflow in an ex- 
cess of fondness; but with Beatrice temper has 
still the mastery. The affection of Benedick in- 
duces him to challenge his intimate friend for her 
sake, but the affection of Beatrice does not pre- 
vent her from risking the life of her lover. 

The charactA- of Hero is well contrasted with 
that of Beatrice, and their mutual attachment 
is very beautiful and natural. When they are 
both on the scene together. Hero has but little 
to say for herself:. Beatrice asserts the rule of 
a master spirit, eclipses her by her mental su- 
periority, abashes her by her raillery, dictates to 
her, answers for her, and would fain inspire her 
gentle-hearted cousin with some of her own as- 

Yes, faith, it is my cousin's duty to make a curtsey, 
and say, "Father, as it please you ;" but yet for all that, 
cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make an- 
other curtsey, and say, "Father, as it please me." 

But Shakespeare knew well how to make one 
character subordinate to another, without sac- 
rificing the slightest portion of its effect; and 
Hero, added to her grace and softness, and all 
the interest which attaches to her as the senti- 
mental heroine of the play, possesses an intel- 
lectual beauty of her own. When she has Bea- 
trice at an advantage, she repays her with in- 

:{Seatrice. 55 

terest, in the severe, but most animated and ele- 
gant picture she draws of her cousin's imperious 
character and unbridled levity of tongue. The 
portrait is a little overcharged, because admin- 
istered as a corrective, and intended to be over- 
heard : 

But Nature never fram'd a woman's hear^ 
Of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice : 
Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes, 
Misprising what they look on ; and her wit 
Values itself so highly, that to her 
All matter else seems weak; she cannot love. 
Nor take no shaoe nor project of affection. 
She is so self-endeared. 


Sure, sure, such carping is not commendable. 


No; not to be so odd, and from all fashions. 
As Beatrice is, cannot be commendable: 
But who dare tell her so? If I should speak. 
She'd mock me into air: O, she would laugh me 
Out of myself, press me to death with wit. 
Therefore let Benedick, like cover'd fire. 
Consume away in sighs, waste inwardly: 
It were a better death than die with mocks, 
Which is as bad as die with tickling. 

Beatrice never appears to greater advantage 
than in her soliloquy after leaving her conceal- 
ment "in the pleached bower, where honeysuckles, 
ripened by the sun, forbid the sun to enter :" she 
exclaims, after listening to this tirade against her- 

56 Sbalftespeare's f>eTO{ne0. 

What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true? 
Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much? 

The sense of wounded vanity is lost in bitter feel- 
ings, arid she is infinitely more struck by what 
is said in praise of Benedick, and the history of 
his supposed love for her, than by the dispraise 
of herself. The immediate success of the trick 
is a most natural consequence of the. self-assur- 
ance and magnanimity of her character ; she is so 
at:customed to 'assert dominion over the spirits 
of others, that she cannot suspect the possibil- 
ity of a plot laid against herself. 

A_ haughty, excitable, and violent temper is 
another of the characteristics of Beatrice; but 
there is more of impulse than of passion in her 
vehemence. In the marriage scene, where she 
has beheld her gentle-spirited cousin, — whom she 
loves the more for those very qualities which are 
most unlike her own,— slandered, deserted, and 
devoted to public shame, her indignation, and 
the eagerness with which she hungers and thirsts 
after revenge, are, like the rest of her charac- 
ter, open, ardent, impetuous, but not deep or 
implacable. When she bursts into that out- 
rageous speech — 

Is he not approved in the height a villain, that hath 
slandered, scorned, dishonoured my kinswoman? O 
that I were a man ! What ! bear her in hand until they 
come to take hands; and then with public accusation, 
uncovered slander, unmitigated rancour — O God, that I 
were a man! I would eat his heart in the market- 
place ! 

JBeattfce. 57 

And when she commends her lover, as the first 
proof of his affection, "to kill Claudio," the very 
consciousness of the exaggeration — of the con- 
trast between the real good-nature of Beatrice 
and the fierce tenor of her language — keeps alive 
the comic effect, mingling the ludicrous with the 
serious. It is remarkable that, notwithstanding 
the point and vivacity of the dialogue, few of 
the speeches' of Beatrice are capable of a gen- 
eral application, or engrave themselves distinctly 
on the memory; they contain more mirth than 
matter; and though wit be the predominant fea- 
ture in the dramatic portrait, Beatrice more 
charms and dazzles us by what she is than by 
what she says. It is not merely her sparkling 
repartees and saucy Jests, ^t is ,lhe soul of wit, 
_and_the spirit. of gaiety in forming the whole 
characterj; — ^looking out from her brilliant eyes, 
and laughing on her full lips that pout with scorn, 
— ^which we have before us, moving and full of 
life. On the whole, we dismiss Benedick and 
Beatrice to their matrimonial bonds, rather with 
a sense of amusement than a feeling of con- 
gratulation or sympathy; rather with an ac- 
knowledgment that they are well matched, and 
worthy of each other, than with any well-founded 
expectation of their domestic tranquillity. If, 
as Benedick asserts, they are both "too wise to 
woo peaceably," it may be added, that both are 
too wise, too witty, and to wilful to live peace- 
ably together. We have some misgivings about 
Beatrice — some apprehensions that poor Bene- 
dick will not escape the "predestinate scratched 

68 Sbiikeepente's "tbetolnee. 

face," which he had foretold to him who should 
win and wear this quick-witted and pleasant- 
spirited lady; yet when we recollect that to the 
wit and imperious temper of Beatrice is united 
a magnanimity of spirit which would naturally 
place her far above air selfishness, and all paltry 
struggles for power — when we perceive, in the 
midst of her sarcastic levity and volubility of 
tongue, so much of generous affection, and such 
a high sense of female virtue and honor, we are 
inclined to hope the best. We think it possible 
that, though the gentleman may now and then 
swear, and the lady scold, the native good-hu- 
mor of the one, the really fine understanding of 
the other, and the value they so evidently attach 
to each other's esteem, will ensure them a toler- 
able portion of domestic felicity, and in this hope 
we leave them. 

IRosalinO. 69 


I COME now to Rosalind, whom I should Kave 
ranked before Beatrice, inasmuch as the greater 
degree of her sex's softnessand sensibility, united 
with equal wit and intellect, give her the supe- 
. riority as a woman ; but that as a dramatic char- 
acter she is inferior in force. The portrait is 
one of infinitely more ds'ipacy and variety, but 
of less sh]engthjind_ depth. It is easy to seize 
on the prominent features in the mind of Bea- 
trice, but extremely difficult to catch and fix the 
more fanciful graces of Rosalind. She is like 
a compound of essences, so volatile in their na- 
ture, and so exquisitely blended, that on any at- 
tempt to analyze them they seem to escape us. 
To what else shall we compare her, all^ngljgn^ 
ing as she is? — to the silvery summer clouds, 
which, even while we gaze on them, shift their 
hues and forms, dissolving into air, and light, 
and rainbow showers? — to the May-morning, 
flush with opening blossoms and roseate dews, 
and "charm of earliest birds" ? — to some wild and 
beautiful melody, such as some shepherd boy 
might "pipe to Amaryllis in the shade"? — to a 
mountain streamlet, now smooth as a mirror in 
which the skies may glass themselves, and anon 
leaping and sparkling in the sunshine — or rather 

60 SbaT;espeare'0 Ibetoinee. 

to the very sunshine itself ? for so her i genial 
spirit touches into life and beauty whatever it 
shines on ! 

But this impression, though produced by the 
complete development of the character, and in 
the end possessing the whole fancy, is not im- 
mediate. The first introduction of Rosalind is 
less striking than interesting; we see her a de- 
pendent, almost a captive, in the house of her 
usurping uncle; her genial spirits are subdued 
by her situation, and the remembrance of her 
banished father: her playfulness is under a tem- 
porary eclipse. 

I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry! 

is an adjuration which Rosalind needed not when 
once at liberty, and sporting "under the green- 
wood tree." The sensibility and even pensive- 
ness of her demeanor in the first instance, ren- 
der archness and gaiety afterwards more grace- 
ful and more fascinating. 

Though Rosalind is a princess, she is a prin- 
cess of Arcady ; and, notwithstanding the charjn- 
ing efifect produced by her first scenes, we scarcely 
ever think of her with a reference to them, or 
associate her with a court and the artificial ap- . 
pendages of her rank. She was not made to 
"lord it o'er a fair mansion," and take state upon 
her, like the all-accomplished Portia; but to 
.breathe the free air of heaven, and frolic among 
green leaves. She was not made to stand the 
siege of daring profligacy, and oppose high ac- 

IRosalfnO. 61 

tion and high passion to the assaults of adverse 
fortune, like Isabel ; but to "fleet the time care- 
lessly as they did i' the golden age." She was 
not made to bandy wit with lords, and tread 
courtly measures with plumed and warlike cav- 
aliers, like Beatrice; but to dance on the green- 
sward, and "murmur among living brooks a 
music sweeter than their own." 

Though sprightliness is the distinguishing!! 
characl&risE[c~df' Rosalind, as of' Beatrice,~yet we 
find her much more nearly allied to Portia in 
temper and intellect. The tone of her mind 
is, like Portia's, genial and buoyant: she has 
something, too, of her softness and .sentiment; 
there is the same confiding abandonment of self 
in her affections: but the characters are other- 
wise as distinct as the situations are dissimilar. 
The age, the manners, the circumstances, in which 
Shakespeare has placed his Portia, are not be- 
yond the bounds of probability ; nay, have a cer- 
tain reality and locality. We fancy her a con- 
temporary of the Raffaelles and the Ariostos ; 
the sea-wedded Venice, its merchants and Mag- 
nificos, the Rialto and the long canals, — rise up 
before us when we think of her. But Rosalind 
is surrounded with the purely ideal and imagi- 
native; the reality is in the characters and in the 
sentiments, not in the circumstances or situation. 
Portia is dignified, splendid and romantic ; Rosa- 
lind is j)lay_ful, pastoral, and picturesque: both 
are in the highest degree poetical, W the one 
is epic and the other lyric. 

Everything about Rosalind breathes of "youth 

62 SbaRespeace'0 Heroines. 

'and youth's sweet prime." She is fresh as the 
morning, sweet as the dew-awakened blossoms, 
and Ught as the breeze that plays among them. 
She is as^witty, as voluble, as sprightly as Bea- 
trice; but in a style altogether distinct. In both 
the wit is^ equdly_uncQnscious : but in Beatrice 
it plays about us like the lightning, dazzling but 
also alarming; while the wit of Rosalind bub- 
bles up and sparkles like the living fountain, re- 
freshing ail around. Her volubility is like the 
bird's song; it is the outpouring of a heart filled 
to overflowing with life, love, and joy, and.all 
sweet and affectionate impulses. She has as 
much tenderhess as mirth, and in her most pet- 
ulant raillery there is a touch of softness — "By 
this hand, it will not hurt a fly." As her vivacity 
never lessens our impression of her sensibility, 
so she wears her masculine attire without the 
slightest impugnment of her delicacy. Shake- 
speare did not make the modesty of his women 
depend on their dress, as we shall see further 
when we come to Viola and Imogen. Rosalind 
has in truth "no doublet and hose in her disposi- 
tion." How her heart seems to throb and flut- 
ter under her page's vest! What depth of love 
in her passion for Orlando ! whether disguised 
beneath a saucy playfulness, or breaking forth 
with a fond patience, or half-betrayed in that 
beautiful scene where she faints at the sight of 
the kerchief stained with his blood! Here her 
recovery of her self-possession — her fears lest she 
should have revealed her sex — her presence of 
mind, and quick-witted excuse : 

1RoaaHn5. 63 

I pray you, tell your brother how well I counterfeited — 

and the characteristic playfulness which seems to 
return so naturally with her recovered senses — 
are all as amusing as consistent. Then how beau- 
tifully is the dialojjue managed between herself 
and Orlando! how well she assumes the airs of 
a saucy page, without throwing off her femi- 
nine sweetness ! How her wit flutters free as air 
over every subject! with what a careless grace, 
yet with what exquisite propriety! 

For innocence hath a privilege in her 
To dignify arch jests and laughing eyes. 

And if the freedom of some of the expressions 
used by Rosalind or Beatrice be objected to, let 
it be remembered that this was not' the fault of 
Shakespeare or the women, but generally of the 
age. Portia, Beatrice, Rosalind, and the rest, 
lived in times when more importance was at- 
tached to things than to words; now we think 
more of words than of things : and happy are we 
in these later days of super-refinement, if we are 
to be saved by our verbal morality. But this 
is meddling with the province of the melancholy 
Jaques, and our argument is Rosalind. 

The impression left upon our hearts and minds , 
by the character of Rosalind — by the mixture of 
j)layfulness, sensibility, and what the French 
(and we for lack of a better expression) call 
naivete — is like a delicious strain of music. There 
is a depth of delight, and a subtlety of words to 
express that delight, which is enchanting. Yet 

64 Sbaftespeate'0 Ibecoinee. 

when we call to mind particular speeches and 
passages, we find that they have a relative beauty 
and propriety, which renders it difficult to sep- 
arate them from the context without injuring 
their effect. She says some jof the most charm- 
ing things in the world, and_,some of, the most 
humorous: but we apply them as phrases rather 
than as maxims, and remember them rather for 
their pointed felicity of expression and fanciful 
application, than for their general truth and 
depth of meaning. I will give a few instances : — 

I was never so be-rhymed since Pythagoras' time — 
that I was an Irish rat — which I can hardly remember." 

Good my complexion ! Dost thou think, though I am 
caparisoned like a man, that I have a doublet and hose 
in my disposition? 

We dwell here in the skirts of the forest, like fringe 
upon a petticoat. 

] Love is merely a madness; and, I tell you, deserves 
fas well a dark house and a whip, as madmen do; and 
Hthe reason why they are not so punished and cured is, 
|hat the lunacy is so ordinary, that the whippers are in 
Jove too. 

A traveller! By my faith, you have great reason to 
be sad. I fear you have sold your own lands, to see 
other men's: then, to have seen much, and to have 
nothing, is to have rich eyes and poor hands. 

'In Shakespeare's time there were people in Ireland 
(there may be such still, for aught I know) who under- 
took to charm rats to death, by chanting certain verses 
which acted as a spell. "Rhyme them to death, as they 
do rats in Ireland," is a line in one of Ben Jonson's 
comedies: this will explain Rosalind's humorous allu- 

IRosalind. 65 

Farewell, Monsieur Traveller. Look, you lisp, and 
wear strange suits; disable all the benefits of your own 
country; be out of love with your nativity, and almost 
chide God for making you that countenance you are; 
or I will scarce think you have swam in a gondola. 

Break an hour's promise in love ! He that will divide 
a minute into a thousand parts, and break but a part 
of the thousandth part of a minute in the affairs of 
love, it may be said of him that Cupid hath clapp'd 
him o' the shoulder, but I'll warrant him heart-whole. 

Men have died from time to time, and worms have 
eaten them — ^but not for love. 

I could find in my heart to disgrace my man's apparel, 
and to cry like a woman; but I must comfort the 
weaker vessel, as doublet and hose ought to show itself 
courageous to petticoat. 

Rosalind has not the impressive eloquence of 
Portia, nor the sweet wisdom of Isabella. Her 
longest speeches are not her best; nor is her 
taunting address to Phebe, beautiful and cele- 
brated as it is, equal to Phebe's own description 
of her. The latter, indeed, is more in earnest. 

Celia is more quiet and retired ; but she rather 
yields to Rosalind than is eclipsed by her. She 
is as full of sweetness, kindness, and intelligence, 
quite as susceptible, and almost as witty, though 
she makes less display of wit. She is described 
as less fair and less gifted ; yet the attempt to ex- 
cite in her mind a jealousy of her lovelier friend 
by placing them in comparison — 

Thou art a fool ; she robs thee of thy name ; 
And thou wilt show more bright, and seem more vir- 
When she is gone— 

66 Sbafiespeate'g Ibetoines. 

fails to awaken in the generous heart o- Celia 
any other feeling than an increased tenderness 
and sympathy for her cousin. To Celia, Shake- 
speare has given some of the most striking and 
animated parts of the dialogue ; and in particular, 
that exquisite description of the friendship be- 
tween her and Rosalind — 

If she be a traitor. 
Why, so am I ; we have still slept together. 
Rose at an instant, learn' d, play'd, eat together. 
And wheresoe'er we went, like Juno's swans. 
Still we were coupled and inseparable. 

The feeling of interest and admiration thus 
excited for Celia at the first, follows her through 
the whole play. We listen to her as to one who 
has made herself worthy of our love, and her 
silence expresses more than eloquence. 

Phebe is quite an Arcadian coquette; she is a 
piece of pastoral poetry. Audrey is only rustic. 
A very amusing effect is produced by the con- 
trast between the frank and free bearing of the 
two princesses in disguise and the scornful airs 
of the real shepherdess. In the speeches of 
Phebe, and in the dialogue between her and Syl- 
vius, Shakespeare has anticipated all the beau- 
ties of the Italian pastoral, and surpassed Tasso 
and Guarini. We find two among the most 
poetical passages of the play appropriate to Phebe 
— ^the taunting speech to Sylvius, and the descrip- 
tion of Rosalind in her page's costume; which 
last is finer than the portrait of Bathyllus in 

JuHet. 67 



O Love! thou teacher, O Grief! thou tamer, 
and Time, thou healer of human hearts! — bring 
hither all your deep and serious revelations ! And 
ye too, rich fancies of unbruised, unbowed youth 
— ye visions of long-perished hopes — shadows of 
unborn joys — gay colorings of the dawn of ex- 
istence! whatever memory hath treasured up of 
bright and beautiful in nature or in art; all soft 
and delicate images — all lovely forms — divinest 
voices and entrancing melodies — gleams of sun- 
nier skies and fairer climes — Italian moonlights, 
and airs that "breathe of the sweet south," — now, 
if it be possible, revive to my imagination — live 
once more to my heart ! Come thronging around 
me, all inspirations that wait on passion, on 
power, on beauty; give me to tread, not bold, 
and yet unblamed, within the inmost sanctuary 
o£ Shakespeare's' genius, in Juliet's moonlight 
bower and Miranda's enchanted isle! 

4: ^ ^ ^ H< 

It is not without emotion that I attempt to 
touch on the character of Juliet. Such beauti- 

68 Sbaftcspeare's Iberofnee. 

ful things have already been said of her — only 
to be exceeded in beauty by the subject that in- 
spired them! — it is impossible to say anything 
better; but it is possible to say something more. 
Such, in fact, is the simplicity, the truth, and the 
loveliness of Juliet's character, that we are not 
at first aware of its complexity , its depth, and its ? 
variety.^ There is in it anjntensity of passioafa 
sinrfeness of purpose, an entirenessfa complete- 
ness o'feSect, which we feel as a whole ; and td 
attempt to analyze the impression thus conveyed 
at once to soul and sense is as if, while hanging 
over a half-blown rose, and revelling in its in- 
toxicating perfume, we should pull it asunder, 
leaflet by leaflet, the better to display its bloom 
and fragrance. Yet how otherwise should we 
disclose the wonders of its formation, or do jus- 
tice to the skill of the divine hand that hath thus 
fashioned it in its beauty? 

Love, as a passion, forms the groundwork of 
the drama. Now, admitting the axiom of Roche- 
foucauld, that there is but one love, though a 
thousand dififerent copies, yet the true sentiment 
itself has as many dififerent aspects as the hu- 
man soul of which it forms a part. It is not 
only modified by the individual character and 
temperament, but it is under the influence of 
climate and circumstance. The love that is calm 
in one moment, shall show itself vehement and 
tumultuous at another. The love that is wild 
and passionate in the south, is deep and con- 
templative in the north ; as the Spanish or Roman, 
girl perhaps poisons a rival, or stabs herself 

Juliet. 69 

for the sake of a living lover, and the German 
or Russian girl pines into the grave for love of 
the false, the absent, or the dead. Love is ar- 
dent or deep, bold or timid, jealous or confiding, 
impatient or humble, hopeful or desponding; — 
and yet there are not many loves, but one 

, All Shakespeare's women, being essentially 
lyomen, either love or have loved, or are capable 
of loving; but Juliet is love itself. The passion 
js her state of beins[ , and out of it she has no 

. existence. It is the soul within her soul ; the^ 
pulse within..,her heart; the life-blood along her 
v^ins, "blending with every atom of her frame.''' 
The love that is so chaste and dignified in Por-' 

■ tia — so airy-delicate and fearless in Miranda—^ 
so sweetly confiding in Perdita — so playfully. 
fond in Rosalind — so constant in Imogen — so de- 
voted in Desdemona — so fervent in Helen — so 
tender in Viola — is each and all of these in Ju- 
liet. All these remind us of her; but she re- 
minds us of nothing but her own sweet self; or 
if she does, it is of the Gismunda, or the Lisetta, 
or the Fiametta of Boccaccio, to whom she is 
allied, not in the character or circumstances, but 
in the truly Italian spirit, the glowing, national 
complexion of the portrait. 

There was an Italian painter who said that the 
secret of all effect in color consisted in white 
upon black, and black upon white. How per- 
fectly did Shakespeare understand this secret of 
effect ! and how beautifully has he exemplified it 
in Juliet! 

70 Sbaliespcatc's iberolnes. 

So shows a snowy dove trooping with crowSt 
As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows. 

Thus she and her lover are in contrast with all 
around them. They are all love, surrounded with 
all hate; all harmony, surrounded with all dis- 
cord; all pure nature, in the midst of polished 
and artificial life. Tuliet. like Portia, is the fos - 
ter-child of opulence and splendor; she dwells 
in a fair city^she has beer nurtured in a pal- 
ace — s he clasps her robe with jewels — she braids ^ 
Tier nair with rainbo w-tinted nearls : but in her- 
self she has no more cop npftinn witVi tln^ <'r^p- 

pmgS ai-r innd bpr tVian tVip lr.-irp1y PvrttiV |png- 

jlanted from sor" p F.Hpp-HVp rUmate has with 
'the carved and p^ilded cnnsprvato ry whinh hTi" 
reared and sheltp rprf ifg in-^iii-iont h^r,i-^\y 

But in this vivid impression of contrast there 
is nothing abrupt or harsh. A tissue of beau- 
tiful poetry weaves together t^he principal figures 
and the subordinate personages. The consistent 
truth of the costume, and the exquisite grada- 
tions of relief with which the most opposite hues 
are approximated, blend all into harmony. Ro- 
meo and Juliet are not poetical beings placed on 
a prosaic background; nor are they, like Thekla 
and Max in the "Wallenstein," two angels of 
light amid the darkest and harshest, the most 
debased and revolting aspects of humanity; but 
every circumstance, and every personage, and 
every shade of character in each, tends to the 
development of the sentiment which is the sub- 
ject of the drama. The poetry, too, the richest 

Julfet. 71 

that can possibly be conceived, is interfused 
through all the characters ; the splendid imagery 
lavished upon all with the careless prodigal- 
ity of genius ; and the whole is lighted up into 
such a sunny brilliance of effect, as though Shake- 
speare had really transported himself into Italy 
and had drunk to intoxication of her genial at- 
mosphere. How truly it has been said, that "al- 
though Romeo and Juliet are in love, they are 
not love-sick I " What a false idea would any- 
thing of the mere whining amoroso give us of 
Romeo, such as he really is in Shakespeare — 
the noble, gallant, ardent, brave, and witty ! And 
Juliet — with even less truth could the phrase or 
idea apply to her! The picture in "Twelfth 
Night" of the wan girl dying of love, "who pined 
in thought, and with a green and yellow melan^ 
choly," would never surely occur to us when 
thinking on the enamoured and impassioned Ju- 
liet, in whose bosom love keeps a fiery vigil, 
kindling tenderness into enthusiasm, enthusiasgi i-^' 
into passion, passion into heroism ! No, the whole 
sentiment of the play is of a far different cast. 
It is..flushed with the genial spirit of the. south : 
it tastes of youth, and of the essence of youtjj; 
• of. life, and of the very sap of life. We have in- 
deed the struggle, of love against .evil destinies 
and a thorny world; the pain, the grief, the an- 
guish, the terror, the despair; the aching adieu; 
the pang unutterable of parted affection; and 
rapture, truth, and tenderness trampled into an 
early grave: but still an Elysian grace lingers 

72 Sbafteepeaie'B "fccrotnes. 

round the whole, and the blue sky of Italy bends 
over all ! i 

In the delineation of that sentiment /which 
forms the groundwork of the drama, notjiing in 
fact can equal the power of the picture, | but its 
inexpressible sweetness and its perfect gr^ce : the 
passion which has taken possession of Juliet's 
whole soul has the force, the rapidity, the resist- 
less violence of the torrent; but she is herself 
as "moving delicate7' as fair, as soft, as flexible 
as the willow that bends over it, whose ligh't 
leaves tremble even with the motion of the cur- 
rent which hurries beneath them. But at the 
same time that the pervading sentiirient is never 
lost sight of, and is one and the same through- 
out, the individual part of the character in all 
its variety is developed, and marked with the 
nicest discrimination. For instance, — the sim- 
1 . plicity of Juliet is verv different from the simplic- 
ity of Miranda ! her innocence is not the inno - 
cence of a desert islan^ . The energy she dis- 
plays does not once remind us of the moral gran- 
deur of Isabel, or the intellectual power of Por- 
tia; — it is foun ded in the strength of passion . 
not in tiie strength ot character: it is accidental 
fathe rthan inherent, rismg with the tide nf fetj'l- 
jng or temper, and with it subsiding. Her ro- 
mance is not the pastoral romance of Perdita, nor 
the fanciful romance of Viola; it is the romance 
of a tender heart and a poetical imagination. Her 
inexperience is not ignorance ; she has heard that 
there is such a thing as falsehood, though she 
can scarcely conceive it. Her mother and her 

Sutt:t. 73 

nurse have perhaps warned her against "flatter- 
ing vows and man's inconstancy, or she has even 

. . . . turned the tale by Ariosto told. 
Of fair Olympia, loved and left, of old ! 

Hence that bashful doubt, dispelled almost as 
soon as felt — 

Ah, gentle Romeo! 
If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully. 

That conscious shrinking from her own confes- 
sion — 

Fain would I dwell on form; fain, fain deny 
What I have spoke! 

The ingenuous simplicity of her avowal — 

Or, if thou think'st I am too quickly won, 

I'll frown, and be perverse, and say thee nay, 

So thou wilt woo — but else, not for the world! 

In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond, 

And therefore thou may'st think my 'haviour light ; 

But trust me, gentleman, I'll prove more true 

Than those who have more cunning to be strange. 

And the proud yet timid delicacy with which 
she throws herself for forbearance and pardon 
upon the tenderness of him she loves, even for 
the love she bears him — 

Therefore pardon me, 
And not impute this yielding to light love. 
Which the dark night hath so discovered. 

74 SbaRespeare'g Iberofnes. 

In the alternative, which she afterwards places 
before her lover with such a charming nlixture 
of conscious delicacy and girlish simplicity, there 
is that jealousy of female honor which , precept 
and education have infused into her mind, with- 
out one real doubt of his truth, or the slightest 
hesitation in her self-abandonment ; for she does 
not even wait to hear his asseverations : 

But if thou mean'st not well, I do beseech thee 
To cease thy suit, and leave me to my grief. 


So thrive my soul 


A thousand times, good night! 

But all these flutterings between native im- 
pulses and maiden fears become gradually ab- 
sorbed, swept away, lost, and swallowed up in 
the depth and enthusiasm of confiding love. 

My bounty is as boundless as the sea, 
My love as deep ; the more I give to you 
The more I have — for both are infinite! 

What a picture of the young heart, that sees 
no bound to its hopes, no end to its affections! 
For "what was to hinder the thrilling tide of 
pleasure, which had just gushed from her heart, 
from flowing on without stint or measure, but 
experience, which she was yet without? What 
was to abate the transport of the first sweet sense 
of pleasure, which her heart had just tasted, but 
indifference, to which she was yet a stranger? 

Juliet. 75 

What was there to check the ardor of hope, of 
faith, of constancy, just rising in her breast, but 
disappointment, which she had never yet felt?" 

Lord Byron's Haidee is a copy of Juliet in 
the Oriental costume, but the development is epic, 
not dramatic.^ 

J I remember no dramatic character conveying 
/the same impression of singleness of purpose, and 

*I must allude, but with reluctance, to another char- 
acter, which I have heard likened to Juliet, and often 
quoted as the heroine par excellence of amatory fic- 
tion — I mean the Julie of Rousseau's "Nouvelle Heloise." 
I protest against her altogether. As a creation of fancy 
the portrait is a compound of the most gross and glar- 
ing inconsistencies; as false and impossible to the re- 
flecting and philosophical mind as the fabled Syrens, 
Hamadryads, and Centaurs to the eye of the anatomist. 
As a woman, Julie belongs neither to nature nor to arti- 
ficial society; and if the pages of melting and dazzling 
eloquence in which Rousseau has garnished out his idol 
did not blind and intoxicate us, as the incense and the 
garlands did the votaries of Isis, we should be dis- 
gusted. Rousseau, having composed his Julie of the 
commonest clay of the earth, does not animate her 
with fire from heaven, but breathes his own spirit into 
her, and then calls the "impetticoated" paradox a 
woman. He makes her a peg on which to hang his own ■ 
visions and sentiments; — and what sentiments! but that 
I fear to soil my pages, I would pick out a few of them, 
and show the difference between this strange combina- 
tion of youth and innocence, philosophy and pedantry, 
sophistical prudery and detestable grossierete, and our 
own Juliet. No! if we seek a French Juliet, we must 
go far, far back to the real Heloise, to her eloquence, 
her sensibility, her fervor of passion, her devotedness of 
truth. She, at least, married the man she loved, and 
loved the man she married, and more than died for 
him; — ^but enough of both. 

7G Sbaftcapearc's Iberoines. 

Hevotion of heart and soul, except the Thekla 
of Schiller's "Wallenstein" ; she is the German 
Juliet; far unequal, indeed, but conceived, nev- 
ertheless, in a kindred spirit. I know not if 
critics have ever compared them, or whether 
Schiller is supposed to have had the English, 
or rather the Italian, Juliet in his fancy when he 
portrayed Thekla; but there are some striking* 
points of coincidence, while the national distinc- 
tion in the character of the passion leaves to 
Thekla a strong cast of originality. The Prin- 
cess Thekla is, like Juliet, the heiress of rank and 
opulence; her first introduction to us, in her full 
dress and diamonds, does not impair the impres- 
sion of her softness and simplicity. We do not 
think of them, nor do we sympathize with the 
complaint of her lover — 

The dazzle of the jewels which played round you 
Hid the beloved from me. 

We almost feel the reply of Thekla before she 
utters it — 

Then you saw me 
Not with your heart, but with your eyes! 

The timidity of Thekla in her first scene, her 
trembling silence in the commencement, and the 
few words she addresses to her mother, remind 
us of the unobtrusive simplicity of Juliet's first 
appearance; but the impression is different: the 
one is the shrinking violet, the other the unex- 
panded rosebud. Thekla and Max Piccolomini 

JuUct. 77 

are, like Romeo and Juliet, divided by the hatred 
of their fathers. The death of Max, and the res- 
olute despair of Thekla, are also points of re- 
, semblance ; and Thekla's complete devotion, her 
frank yet dignified abandonment of all disguise, 
and her apology for her own unreserve, are quite 
in Juliet's style — 

I ought to be less open, ought to hide 
My heart more from thee — so decorum dictates: 
But where in this place wouldst thou seek for truth 
If in my mouth thou didst not find it? 

The same confidence, innocence, and fervor of 
^ffection distinguish both heroines : but the love 
of Juliet is more vehement, the love of Thekla 
is more calm, and reposes more on itself; the 
love of Juliet gives us the idea of infinitude, and 
that of Thekla of eternity ; the love of Juliet flows 
on with an increasing tide, like the river 
pouring to the ocean, and the love of Thekla 
stands unalterable, and enduring as the rock. 
In the heart of Thekla love shelters as in a home ; 
but in the heart of Juliet he reigns a crowned 
king — ^"he rides on its pants triumphant!" As 
women, they would divide the loves and suffrages 
of mankind, but not as dramatic characters: the 
moment we come to look nearer, we acknowledge 
that it is indeed "rashness and ignorance to com- 
pare Schiller with Shakespeare."* Thekla is a 
fine conception in the German spirit, but Juliet 
is a lovely and palpable creation. The coloring 

'Coleridge, Preface to "Wallenstein." 

78 SbaFicspeare'6 Iberofncs. 

in which Schiller has arrayed his Thekla is pale, 
sombre, vague, compared with the strong indi- 
vidual marking, the rich glow of life and real- 
ity, which distinguish Juliet. One contrast in 
particular has always struck me: the two beau- 
tiful speeches in the first interview between Max 
and Thekla, that in which she describes her fa- 
ther's astrological chamber, and that in which 
he replies with reflections on the influence of the 
stars, are said to "form in themselves a fine 
poem." They do so; but never would Shake- 
speare have placed such extraneous description 
and reflection in the mouths of his lovers. Ro- 
meo and Juliet speak of themselves only ; they 
see only themselves in the universe ; all "things 
else are as an idle matter. Not a word they ut- 
ter, though every word is poetry, not a sentiment 
or description, though dressed in the most luxu- 
riant imagery, but has a direct relation to them- 
selves, or to the situation in which they are placed 
and the feelings that engross them : and besides, 
it may be remarked of Thekla, and generally of 
all tragedy heroines in love, that, however beau- 
tifully and distinctly characterized, we see the 
passion only under one or two aspects at most, 
or in conflict with some one circumstance or con- 
tending duty or feeling. In Juliet alone we find 
it exhibited under every variety of aspect, and 
every gradation of feeling it could possibly as- 
sume in a delicate female heart — as we see the 
rose, when passed through the colors' of the prism, 
catch and reflect every tint of the divided ray, 
and still it is the same sweet rose. 

Juliet. 79 

I have already remarked the quiet manner in 
which Juliet steals upon us in her first scene, as 
the serene, graceful girl, her feelings as yet un- 
awakened, and her energies all unknown to her- 
self, and unsuspected by others. Her silence and 
her filial deference are charming — 

I'll look to like, if looking liking move : 
But no more deep will I endart mine eye 
Than your consent shall give it strength to fly. 

Much in the same unconscious way we are im- 
pressed with an idea of her excelling loveliness: 

Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear! 

and which could make the dark vault of death 
"a feasting presence full of light." Without anv 
elaborate description, we behold Juliet, as she is 
reflected in the heart of her lover, like a singfe 
bright star mirrored in the bosom of a deep, 
transparent well. The rapture with which he 
dwells on the "white wonder of her hand;" on 
her lips, 

That even in pure and vestal modesty 

Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin. 

And then her eyes, "two of the fairest stars in 
all the heavens !" In his exclamation in the 

Ah, dear Juliet, why art thou yet so fair? 
there is life and death, beauty and horror, rap- 

80 Sbaftespeace's "IbetofneB. 

ture and anguish combined. The Friar's descrip- 
tion of her approach, 

O, so light a step 
,Will ne'er wear out the everlasting flint! 

and then her father's similitude, 

Death lies on her, like an untimely frost 
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field; — 

all these mingle into a beautiful picture of youth- 
ful, airy, delicate grace, — feminine sweetness, and 
patrician elegance. 

And our impression of Juliet's loveliness and 
sensibility is enhanced, when we find it overcom- 
ing in the bosom of Romeo a previnns Inve for 
another — His visionary passion for the cold, in- 
accessible Rosaline forms but the prologue, the 
threshold, to the true, the real sentiment which 
succeeds to it. This incident, which is found in 
the original story, has been retained by Shake- 
speare with equal feeling and judgment; and 
far from being a fault in taste and sentiment, 
far from prejudicing us against Romeo, by cast- 
ing on him, at the outset of the piece, the stig- 
ma of inconstancy, it becomes, if properly con- 
sidered, a beauty in the drama, and adds a fresh 
stroke of truth to the portrait of the lover. Why, 
after all, should we be offended at, what does not 
offend Juliet herself? for in the original story 
we find that her attention is first attracted to- 
wards Romeo by seeing him ''fancy sick and pale 

Juliet. 81 

of cheer" for love of a cold beauty. We must 
remember that in those times every young cav- 
alier of any distinction devoted himself, at his 
first entrance into the world, to the service of 
some fair lady, who was selected to be his fan- 
cy's queen; and the more rigorous the beauty, 
and the more hopeless the love, the more honor- 
able the slavery. To go about "metamorphosed 
by a mistress," as Speed humorously expresses 
it;^ to maintain her supremacy in charms at the 
sword's point ; to sigh ; to walk with folded arms ; 
to be negligent and melancholy, and to show a 
careless desolation, was the fashion of the day. 
The Surreys, the Sydneys', the Bayards, the Her- 
berts of the time — all those who were the mir- 
rors "in which the noble youth did dress them- 
selves" — were of this fantastic school of gal- 
lantry, the last remains of the age of chivalry; 
and it was especially prevalent in Italy. Shake- 
speare has ridiculed it in many places with ex- 
quisite humor; but he wished to show us that it 
has its serious as well as its comic aspect. Ro- 
meo, then, is introduced to us with perfect truth 
of costume, as the thrall of a dreaming, fanciful 
passion for the scornful Rosaline, who had for- 
sworn to love; and on her charms and coldness, 
and on the power of love generally, he descants 
to his companions in pretty phrases, quite in the 
style and taste of the day.* 

" In "The Two Gentlemen of Verona." 

•There is an allusion to this court language of love 
in "All's Well that Ends Well," where Helena says. 

82 Sbaftespearc'0 Iberoinc^, 

Why, then, O brawling love, O loving hate, 
O anything, of nothing first create! 
O heavy lightness, serious vanity, 
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms! 
Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs : 

Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes ; 
Being vex'd, a s*ea nourish'd with lovers' tears. 

But when once he has beheld Juliet, and 
quaffed intoxicating draughts of hope and love 
from her soft glance, how all these airy fancies 
fade before the soul-absorbing reality ! The lam- 
bent fire that played round his heart burns to that 
heart's very core. We no longer find him adorn- 
ing his lamentations in picked phrases, or mak- 
ing a confidant of gay companions; he is no 
longer "for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in ;" 
but all is concentrated, earnest, rapturous, in the 
feeling and the expression. Compare, for in- 
stance, the sparkling antithetical passages just 
quoted with one or two of his passionate speeches 
to, or of, Juliet : 

There shall your master have a thousand loves — 

* * * * if 

A guide, a goddess, and a sovereign, 

A counsellor, a traitress, and a dear, 

His humble ambition, proud humility, 

His jarring concord, and his discord dulcet. 

His faith, his sweet disaster ; with a world 

Of pretty, fond, adoptious Christendoms, 

That blinking Cupid gossips. — Act i. scene I. 

The courtly poets of Elizabeth's time, who copied the 
Italian sonneteers of the sixteenth century, are full of 
these quaint conceits. 

JuUet. 83 

Heaven is here, 
Where Juliet lives! &c. 

Ah, Juliet ! if the measure of thy joy- 
Be heap'd like mine, and that thy skill be more 
To blazon it, then sweeten with thy breath 
This neighbour air, and let rich music's tongue 
Unfold the imagin'd happiness, that both 
• -Receive in either by this dear encounter. 

Come what sorrow may, 

It cannot countervail the exchange of joy 

That one short minute gives me in her sight. 

How different! and how finely the distinction 
is drawn ! His first passion is indulged as a wak- 
ing dream, a reverie of the fancy; it is depress- 
ing, indolent, fantastic : his second elevates him 
to the third heaven, or hurries him to despair. 
It rushes to its object through all impediments, 
defies all dangers, and seeks at last a triumphant 
grave in the arms of her he so loved. Thus 
Romeo's previous attachment to Rosaline is so 
contrived as to exhibit to us another variety in 
that passion which is the subject of the poem, 
by showing us the distinction between the fan- 
cied and the real sentiment. It adds a deeper ef- 
fect to the beauty of Juliet ; it interests us in the 
commencement for the tender and romantic Ro- 
meo; and gives an individual reality to his char- 
acter, by stamping him like an historical, as well 
as a dramatic portrait, with the very spirit of 
the age in which he lived. 

It may be remarked of Juliet as of Portia, that 
we not only trace the component qualities in each 
as they expand before us in the course of the ac- 

84 Sbaftcspeare'6 Iberolnes. 

tion, but we seem to have known them previously, 
and mingle a consciousness of their past with the 
interest of their present and their future. Thus, 
in the dialogue between Juliet and her parents, 
and in the scenes with the nurse, we seem to have 
before us the whole of her previous education 
and habits; we see her on the one hand l^ppt '" 
severe subjection bv her a^ ft^'"'' rf""''"^i' ^nd on 
the other, fondled and spoiled by a foolish old 
nurse — a situation perfectly accordant with the 
manners of the time. Then Lady Capulet comes 
sweeping by with her train of velvet, her black 
hood, her fan, and her rosary — the very beau- 
ideal of a proud Italian matron of the fifteenth 
century, whose offer to poison Romeo in revenge 
for the death of Tybalt, stamps her with one very 
characteristic trait of the age and country. Yet 
she loves her daughter; and there is a touch of 
remorseful tenderness in her lamentation over 
her, which adds to our impression of the timid 
softness of Juliet, and the harsh subjection in 
which she has been kept : 

But one, poor one ! — one poor and loving child. 

But one thing to rejoice and solace in, 

And cruel death hath catch'd it from my sight ! 

Capulet, as the jovial, testy old man, the self- 
willed, violent, tyrannical father, — to whom his 
daughter is but a property, the appanage of his 
house, and the object of his pride, — is equal as 
a portrait: but both must yield to the Nurse, 
who is drawn with the most wonderful power and 
discrimination. In the prosaic homeliness of the 

JuHct. 85 

outline, and the magical illusion of the coloring, 
§he reminds us of some of the maryellojis Dutch 
paintings, from which, with .all their coarseness,. 
we start back as from a reality. Her low hu-. 
mor, her shallow garrulity, mixed with the dot- 
age and petulance of age, her subserviency, her 
secrecy, and her total want of elevated princi- 
ple, or even common honesty, are brought before 
us like a living and palpable truth. 
_ Among these harsh and inferior snirits is jTii- 
liet placed : her haughty parents, and her plebeian 
nurse, not only throw into beautiful relief her 
own native softness and elegance, but are at once 
the cause and the excuse of her subsequent con- 
duct. She trembles before her stern mother and 
her violent father; but, like a petted rl^ilrl^ nltpr - 
nately cajoles and commands her nurse. It is 
her old foster-mother who is the confidante of 
her love. It is the woman who cherished her in- 
fancy who aids and abets her in her clandestine 
marriage. Do we not perceive how immediately 
our impression of Juliet's character would have 
been lowered, if Shakespeare had placed her in 
connection with any commonplace dramatic wait- 
ing-woman? — even with Portia's adroit Nerissa, 
or Desdemona's Emilia? By giving her the 
Nurse for her confidante, the sweetness and dig- 
nity of Juliet's character are preserved inviolate 
to the fancy, even in the midst of all the romance 
and wilfulness of passion. 

The natural result of these extremes of subjec- ' 
,tion and independence is exhibited in the charac- 

ter of Juliet as It gradually opens upon us. We 

86 Sbaliespeate's 'heroines. 

behold it in the mixture of self-will and timidity. 
of strength and weakness, of confidence and re- 
serve^ which are developed as the action of the 
play proceed^. We see it in the fond eagerness 
of the indulged girl, for whose impatience the 
"nimblest of the lightning-winged loyes" had 
been too slow a messenger ; in her petulance with 
her nurse; in those bursts of yehement feeling 
which prepare us for the climax of passion at 
the catastrophe; in her inyectives against Romeo, 
when she hears of the death of Tybalt ; liii "her 
indignation when the Nurse echoes* those re- 
proaches, and the rising of her temper against 
unwonted contradiction : 


Shame come to Romeo! 


Blister'd be thy tongue 
For such a wish! he was not born to shame. 

Then comes that revulsion of strong feeling, 
that burst of magnificent exultation in the virisife 
and honor of her lover: 

Upon his brow Shame is ashamed to sit, 

For 'tis a throne where Honour may be crown'd 

Sole monarch of the universal earth! 

And this, by one of those quick transitions of 
feeling which belong to the character, is imme- 
diately succeeded by a gush of tenderness ino 
self-reproach — -* 

Juliet. 87 

Ah, poor my lord, what tongue shall smooth thy name. 
When I, thy three-hours' wife, have mangled it? 

With the same admirable truth of nature, Ju- 
liet is represented as at first bewildered by the 
fearful destiny that closes round her; reverse 
is new and terrible to one nursed in the lap of 
luxury, and whose energies are yet untried. 

Alack, alack, that Heaven should practise stratagems 
Upon so soft a subject as myself ! 

While a stay remains to her amid the evils 
that encompass her, she clings to it. She ap- 
peals to her father, to her mother — 

Good father, I beseech you on my knees. 
Hear me with patience but to speak one word! 

Ah, sweet my mother, cast me not away! 
Delay this marriage for a month, — a week! 

And, rejected by both, she throws herself upon 
her nurse in all the helplessness of anguish, of 
confiding affection, of habitual dependence — 

O God ! O nurse ! how shall this be prevented ? 
Some comfort, nurse! 

The old woman, true to her vocation, and fear- 
ful lest her share in these events should be dis- 
covered, counsels her to forget Romeo and marry 
Paris; and- the moment which unveil§ to Juliet 
the weakness and the baseness of her confidante 
is the moment which reveals her to herself. She 
does not break into upbraidings ; it is no moment 

88 Sbafieapeate'e tjctoince, 

for anger ; it I'g ^nrrprJiilnngjimaypp^pnt, .■-.iicceedefl 
by the extremity of scorn an d abhorrence, whic h 
takes pos session of her mind. She assumes a t 
once.anilasserts.all her own superiorit y, an d rises 
tojnaj.estyjn the s treng^th of her d espair. 


Speakest thou from thy heart? 


Ay, and from my soul too; — or else 
Beshrew them both! 



^ This final severing of all the old familiar ties 
of her childhoods 

Go, counsellor, 
Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain ! 

and the calm, concentrated force of her resolve — 

If all else fail, myself have power to die; 

have a sublime pathos. It appears to me also 
an admirable touch of nature, considering the 
master-passion which, at this moment, rules in 
Juliet's soul, that she is as much shocked by the 
Nurse's dispraise of her lover, as by her wicked, 
time-serving advice. 

This scene is the crisis in thf ^Ti^rfipft^r- and 
^lenceforth we see Juliet assume a new aspect. 
The fond, impatient ^ timid ^irl puts nn the wife 
and the woman: she has learned heroism from 

?ulfet. 89^ 

suffering, and subtlety from oppression. It is 
idle to criticize her dissembling submission to her 
father and mother ; a higher duty has taken place 
of that which she owed to them; a more sacrqd 
tie has severed all others. Her parents are pic- 
tured as they are, that no feeling for them may 
interfere in the slightest degree with our sym- 
pathy for the lovers. In the mind of Juliet there 
is no struggle between her filial and her conjug al 
duties, and there ought to be none. The Friar, 
her spiritual director, dismisses her with these in- 
structions : — 

Go home, — ^be merry, — give consent 
To marry Paris; 

and she obeys him. Death and suffering in every 
horrid form she is ready to brave, without fear 
or doubt, "to live an unstain'd wife:" and the 
artifice to which she has recourse, which she is 
even instructed to use, in no respect impairs the 
beauty of the character; we regard it with pain 
and pity, but excuse it, as the natural and inevit- 
able consequence of the situation in which she is 
placed. Nor should we forget that the dissimula- 
tion, as well as the courage of Juliet, though they 
spring from passion, are justified by principle: 

My husband is on earth, my faith in heaven : 
How shall my faith return again to earth, 
Unless that husband send it me from heaven? 

In her successive appeals to her father, her 
mother, her nurse^ and the Friar, she seeks those 

90 Sbaftespearc'g Iberoines. 

remedies which would first suggest themselves 
to a gentle and virtuous nature, and grasps her 
dagger only as the last resource against dishonor 
and violated faith : 

God join'd my heart with Romeo's — thou our hands. 
And ere this hand, by thee to Romeo seal'd, 
Shall be the label to another deed. 
Or my true heart, with treacherous revolt, 
Turn to another, — this shall slay them both! 

Thus, in the very tempest and whirlwind of pas- 
sion and terror, preserving, to a certain degree, 
that moral and feminine dignity which harmon- 
izes with our best feelings, and commands our 
unreproved sympathy. 

I reserve my remarks on the catastrophe, which 
demands separate consideration; and return to 
trace from the opening another and distinguish- 
ing trait in Juliet's character. 

In the extreme Y iYacity of h er imagination^ a nd 
its influence upon the action, the language, the 
sentiments of the drama, Juliet resembles Portia; 
but with this striking difference. In Portia, the 
imaginative power, though developed in a high 
degree, is so equally blended with the other in- 
tellectual and moral faculties, that it does not give 
us the idea of excess. It is subject to her no- 
bler reason ; it adorns and heightens all her feel- 
ings ; it does not overwhelm or mislead them. In 
Juliet, it is rather a part of her southern tempera- 
ment, controlling and modifying the rest of her 
character; springing from her sensibility, hur- 
ried along by her passions, animating her joys, 

5uUct. 91 

darkening her sorrows, exaggerating her ter- 
rors, and, in the end, overpowering her reason. 

With Juliet. imagin; itinn is. m thf firQt ip.;fanpp, 

if not the source , th^. medium nf passion^ and 
passion again kindles her imagination. It is 
Through the power of imagination that the elo- 
quence of Juliet is sn vividly poetical : that every 
feeling, every sentiment comes to her, clothed in 
the richest imagery, and is thus reflected from 
her mind to ours. The poetry is not here the 
mere adornment, the outward garnishing of the 
. character ; but its result, or, rather, blended with 
its essence. It is indivisible from it, and inter- 
fused through it like moonlight through the sum- 
mer air. To particularize is' almost impossible, 
since the whole of the dialogue appropriated to 
■ Tuliet is n"p rirb stream n f imagery : she speaks 
in pictures. And sometimes they are crowded 
one upon another : thus in the balcony scene — 

I have no joy of this contract to-night : 
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden, 
Too like the lightning which doth cease to be 
Ere one can say it lightens. 

This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath. 
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet. 


O, for a falconftr's voice 
To lure this tassel-gentle back again ! 
Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud ; 
Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies. 
And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine 
With repetition of my Romeo's name. 

92 Sbaftespeate's Ibetolnes. 

Here there are three images in the course of 
six lines. In the same scene, the speech of twen- 
ty-two lines, beginning. 

Thou knowest the mask of night is on my face, 

contains but one figurative expression, the mask 
of night; and every one reading this speech with 
the context must have felt the peculiar propriety 
of its simplicity, though perhaps without exam- 
ining the cause of an omission which certainly 
is not fortuitous. The reason lies in the situa- 
tion and in the feeling of the moment ; where con- 
fusion, and anxiety, and earnest self-defence pre- 
dominate, the excitability and play of the imag- 
ination would be checked and subdued for the 

In the soliloquy of the second act, where she 
is chiding at the Nurse's delay: — 

O, she is lame! Love's heralds should be thoughts. 
That ten time's faster glide than the sun's beams, 
Driving back shadows over low'ring hills: 
Therefore do nimble-pinion'd doves draw Love, 
And therefore hath the wind-swift Cupid wings! 

How beautiful ! how the lines mount and float re- 
sponsive to the sense I She goes on — 

Had she affections, and warm youthful blood, 
She'd be as swift in motion as a ball ; 
My words should bandy her to my sweet love. 
And his to me! 

The famous soliloquy, "Gallop apace, ye fiery- 

5ulfet. 93 

footed steeds," teems with luxuriant imagery. 
The fond adjuration, "Come night ! come Romeo ! 
come thou day in night!" expresses that fulness 
of enthusiastic admiration for her lover which 
possesses her whole soul ; but expresses it as only 
Juliet could or would have expressed it, — ^in a 
bold and beautiful metaphor. Let it be remem- 
bered, that in this speech Juliet is not supposed 
to be addressing an audience, nor even a con- 
fidante ; and I confess I have been shocked at the 
utter want of taste and refinement in those who, 
with coarse derision, or in a spirit of prudery 
yet more gross and perverse, have dared to com- 
ment on this beautiful "Hymn to the Night" 
breathed out by Juliet in the silence and solitude 
of her chamber. She is thinking aloud ; it is the 
young heart "triumphing to itself in words." In 
the midst of all the vehemence with which she 
calls upon the night to bring Romeo to her arms, 
there is something so almost infantile in her per- 
fect simplicity, so playful and fantastic in the 
imagery and language, that the charm of senti- 
ment and innocence is thrown over the whole; 
and her impatience, to use her own expression, 
is truly that of "a child before a festival, that 
hath new robes and may not wear them." It is 
at the very moment, too, that her whole heart 
and fancy are abandoned to blissful anticipation, 
that the Nurse enters with the news of Romeo's 
banishment; and the immediate transition from 
rapture to despair has a most powerful effect. 

It is the same shaping spirit of imagination 
which, in the scene with the Friar, heaps together 

94 Sbafie0peate'5 ibetoinea. 

all images of horror that ever hung upon a trou- 
bled dream. 

O, bid me leap, rather than marry Paris, 
From off the battlements of yonder tower; 
Or walk in thievish ways ; or bid me lurk 
Where serpents are ; chain me with roaring bears ; 
Or shut me nightly in a charnel-house 
O'ercover'd quite with dead men's rattling bones; 
Or bid me go into a new-made grave; 
Or hide me with a dead man in his shroud; — 
Things that, to hear them told have made me tremble! 

But she immediately adds, 

And I will do it without fear or doubt, 
To live an unstain'd wife to my sweet love. 

In the scene w here she drinks the sleeping po- 
tion, altho ugh her spiri t does not quail nQr..her 
determination falter for a n instant , her vivid 
fancy conjures up one terrible apprehension after 
another, till gradually, and most naturally, in 
such a mind once thrown off its poise, the horror 
rises to frenzy — her imagination realizes its own 
hideous creations, and she sees her cousin Ty- 
balt's ghost.^ 

In particular passages this luxuriance of fancy 
may seem to wander into excess. For instance, 

O serpent heart, hid with a flowery face! 
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave? 
Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical! 
Dove-feather'd raven I wolfish ravening lamb, &c. 

° Juliet, courageously drinking off the potion, after she 
has placed before herself in the most fearful colors all 
its possible consequences, is compared by Schlegel to 
the famous story of Alexander and his physician. 

Julfet. 95 

Yet this highly figurative and antithetical ex- 
/uberance of language is defended by Schlegel 
I on strong and just grounds ; and to me also it ap- 
pears naturkl, however critics may argue against 
its taste or propriety.^ The warmth and vivacitv 
of Tuliet's fancy , which pl^ivs J,iVe a 1i{yl7t nvpr 
every part of her character — ^which animates 
every line she utters — which kindles every thought 
into a picture, and clothes her emotions in visible 
images, would naturally, under strong and un- 
usual excitement, and in the conflict of oppos- 
ing sentiments', run into some extravagance of 

With regard to the termination of the play, 
which has been a subject of much critical argu- 
ment, it is well known that Shakespeare, follow- 
ing the old English versions, has departed from 
the original story of Da Porta ;'' and I am inclined 

° Perhaps 'tis pretty to force together 
Thoughts so all unlike each other; 
To mutter and mock a broken charm, 
To dally with wrong that does no harm! 
Perhaps 'tis tender, too, and pretty. 
At each wild word to feel within 
A sweet recoil of love and pity. 
And what if in a world of sin 
(O, sorrow and shame should this be true I) 
Such giddiness of heart and brain 
Comes seldom, save from rage and pain, 
So talks as it's most used to do ? — Coleridge. 

These lines seem to me to form the truest comment 
on Juliet's wild exclamations against Romeo. 

' The "Giulietta" of Luigi da Porta was written about 
1520. In a popular little book published in 1565, thirty 
years before Shakespeare wrote his tragedy, the name 

96 Sbafteepeate's Iberofnea. 

to believe that Da Porta, in making Juliet waken 
from her trance while Romeo yet lives, and in 
his terrible final scene between the lovers, has 
himself departed from the old tradition, and, 
as a romance, has certainly improved it ; but that 
which is effective in a narrative is not always cal- 
culated for the drama; and I cannot but agree 
with Schlegel, that Shakespeare has done well 
and wisely in adhering to the old story. Can we 
doubt for a moment that he who has given us 
the catastrophe of Othello, and the tempest scene 

of Juliet occurs as an example of faithful love, and is 
thus explained by a note in the margin. "Juliet, a noble 
maiden of the citie of Verona, which loved Romeo, 
eldest son of the Lord Monteschi; and being privily 
married together, he at last poisoned himself for love 
of her: she, for sorrow of his death, slew herself with 
his dagger." This note, which furnishes, in brief, the 
whole argument of Shakespeare's play, might possibly 
have made the first impression on his fancy. In the 
novel of Da Porta the catastrophe is altogether differ- 
ent. After the death of Romeo, the Friar Lorenzo en- 
deavors to persuade Juliet to leave the fatal monument. 
She refuses ; and throwing herself back on the dead body 
of her husband, she resolutely holds her breath and 
dies. — "E voltatasi al giacente corpo di Romeo, il cui 
capo sopra un origliere, che con lei nell' area era state 
lasciato, posto aveva; gli occhi meglio rinchiusi aven- 
dogli, e di lagrime il freddo volto bagnandogli, disse: 
'Che debbo senza di te in vita pivi fare, signor mio? a 
che altro mi resta verso te se non colla mia morte 
seguirti?' E detto questo, la sua gran sciagura nell' 
animo recatasi, e la perdita del caro amante ricordan- 
dosi, deliberando di piu non vivere, raccolto a se il fiato, 
e per buono spazio tenutolo, e poscia con un gran grido 
fuori mandandolo, sopra il morto corpo, morta ricadde." 
There is nothing so improbable in the story of Romeo 

Juliet. 97 

in Lear, might also have adopted these additional 
circumstances of horror in the fate of the lovers, 
and have so treated them as to harrow up our 
very soul — had it been his object to do so? But 
apparently it was not. The tale is one. 

Such as, once heard, in gentle heart destroys 
All pain but pity. 

It is in truth a tale of love and sorrow, not of 
anguish and terror. We behold the catastrophe 
afar off with scarcely a wish to avert it. Romeo 
and Juliet must die: their destiny is fulfilled: 
they have quaffed off the cup of life, with all its 
infinite of joys and agonies, in one intoxicating 
draught. What have they to do more upon this 
earth? Young, innocent, loving and beloved, 
they descend together into the tomb : but Shake- 
speare has made that tomb a shrine of martyred 

and Juliet as to make us doubt the tradition that it is a 
real fact. "The Veronese," says Lord Byron, in one of 
his letters from Verona, "are tenacious to a degree of 
the truth of Juliet's story, insisting on the fact, giving 
the date 1303, and showing a tomb. It is a plain, open, 
and partly decayed sarcophagus, with withered leaves 
in it, in a wild and desolate conventual garden — once a 
cemetery, now ruined, to the very graves! The situa- 
tion struck me as very appropriate to the legend, being 
blighted as their love." He might have added, that 
when Verona itself, with its amphitheatre and its Pal- 
ladian structures, lies level with the earth, the very spot 
on which it stood will still be consecrated by the mem- 
ory of Juliet. 

When in Italy, I met a gentleman, who being then 
"dans le genre romantique" wore a fragment of Juliet's 
tomb set in a ring. 

98 Sftaftespcate's Derotnes. 

and sainted affection consecrated for the worship 
of all hearts, — not a dark charnel-vault, haunted 
by spectres of pain, rage, and desperation. Ro- 
meo and Juliet are pictured lovely in death as in 
life; the sympathy they inspire does not oppress 
us with that suffocating sense of horror which 
in the altered tragedy makes the fall of the cur- 
tain a relief; but all pain is lost in the tender- 
ness and poetic beauty of the picture. Romeo's 
last speech over his bride is not like the raving 
of a disappointed boy : in its deep pathos, its rap- 
turous despair, its glowing imagery, there is the 
very luxury of life and love. Juliet, who had 
drunk off the sleeping potion in a fit of frenzy, 
wakes calm and collected — 

I do remember well where I should be 
And there I am : — ^Where is my Romeo? 

The profound slumber in which her senses 
have been steeped for so many hours has tran- 
quillized her nerves, and stilled the fever in her 
blood ; she wakes "like a sweet child who has been 
dreaming of something promised to it by its 
mother," and opens her eyes to ask for it — 

.... Where is my Romeo? 

She is answered at once. 

Thy husband in thy bosom here lies dead 

This is enough: she sees at once the whole hor- 
ror of her situation — she sees it with a quiet and 

JuHet, 99 

resolved despair — she utters no reproach against 
the Friar, makes no inquiries, no complaints', ex- 
cept that affecting remonstrance — 

O churl — drink all, and leave no friendly drop 
To help me after! 

All that is left her is to die, and she dies. The 
poem, which opened with the enmity of the two 
families, closes with their reconciliation over the 
breathless remains of their children ; and no vio- 
lent, frightful, or discordant feeling is suffered 
to mingle with that soft impression of melan- 
choly left within the heart, and which Schlegel 
compares to one long, endless sigh. 

"A youthful passion," says Goethe (alluding 
to one of his own early attachments), "which is 
conceived and cherished without any certafn ob- 
ject, may be compared to a shell thrown from 
a mortar by night: it rises calmly in a brilliant 
track, and seems to mix and even to dwell for a 
moment with the stars of heaven; but at length 
it falls, it bursts, consuming and destroying all 
around, even as itself expires." 


To conclude: love considered under its poet- 
ical aspect is the union of passion and imagina- 
tion ; and accordingly to one of these, or to both, 
all the qualities of Juliet's mind and heart (un- 
folding and varying as the action of the drama 
proceeds) may be finally traced : the former con- 
centrating all those natural impulses, fervent af- 
fections, and high energies, which lend the char- 

100 Sbakespeace'0 "betoines. 

acter Its internal charm, its moral power, and in- 
dividual interest; the latter diverging into all 
those splendid and luxuriant accompaniments 
which invest it with its external glow, its beauty, 
its vigor, its freshness, and its truth. 

With all this immense capacity of affection and 
imagination, there is a deficiency of reflection and 
of moral energy arising from previous habit and 
education; and the action of the drama, while 
it serves to develop the character, appears but 
its natural and necessary result. "Le mystere 
de I'existence," said Madame de Stael to her 
daughter, "c'est le rapport de nos erreurs avec 
nos peines." 

Ifelena. 101 


In the character of Juliet we have seen the 
passionate and Jhe imaginative,. blei],de.d in an 
equal degree, and in the highest conceivable de- 
gree as combined with delicate female nature. 
In Helena we have a modification of character 
altogether distinct; allied, indeed, to Juliet as a 
picture of fervent, enthusiastic, self-forgetting 

. love, but differing wholly from her in other re- 
spects ; for Helen is thejanion of strength of pas- 

..don withTstrength ol character. 

To be Iremblirigly alive to gentle impressions, 
and yet to be able to preserve, when the prosecu- 
tion of a design requires it, an immovable heart 
amidst even the most imperious causes of sub- 
duing emotion, is perhaps not an impossible con- 
stitution of mind, but it is the utmost and rarest 
endowment of humanity."* Such a character, al- 
most as difficult to delineate in fiction as to find 
in real life, has Shakespeare given us in Helena; 
touched with the most soul-subduing pathos, and 
developed with the most consummate skill. 

Helena, as a woman, is more passionate than 
imaginative; and, as a character she bears the 
same relation to Juliet that Isabel bears to Por- 
tia. There is equal unity of purpose and effect, 
with much less of the glow of imagery and the 

•Foster's "Essays." 

102 Sbaftespeare'B Iberotneg. 

external coloring of poetry in the sentiments, 
language, and details. It is passion developed 
under its most profound and serious aspect; as 
in Isabella we have the serious and the thought-' 
ful, not the brilliant side of intellect. Both Hel- 
ena and Isabel are distinguished by high mental 
powers, tinged with a melancholy sweetness; but 
in Isabella the serious and energetic part of the 
character is founded in religious principle, in 
Helena it is founded in deep passion. 

There never was, perhaps, a more beautiful 
picture of a woman's love, cherished in secret, 
not self-consuming in silent languishment — not 
pining in thought — not passive and "desponding 
over its idol" — but patient and hopeful, strong in 
its own intensity, and sustained by its own fond 
faith. The passion here reposes upon itself for 
all its interest; it derives nothing from art or 
ornament or circumstance; it has nothing of the 
picturesque charm or glowing romance of Ju- 
liet; nothing of the poetical splendor of Portia 
or the vestal grandeur of Isabel. The situation 
of Helena is the most painful and degrading in 
which a woman can be placed. She is poor and 
lowly: she loves a man who is far her superior 
in rank, who repays her love with indifference, 
and rejects her hand with scorn. She marries 
him against his will ; he leaves her with contumely 
on the day of their marriage, and makes his re- 
turn to her arms depend on conditions apparently 
impossible.' All the circumstances and details 

" I have read somewhere that the play of which Hel- 
ena is the heroine ("All's Well that Ends Well") was 

\ Mclcna. 103 

with which Helena is surrounded are shocking 
to our feelmgs and wounding to our delicacy; 
and yet the\beauty of the character is made to 
triumph oveiy all ; and Shakespeare, resting for 
all his effect da its internal resources and its gen- 
uine truth ana sweetness, has not even availed 
himself of soi^^e extraneous advantages with 
which Helen is represented in the originar story. 
She is the Gilett^ di Narbonna of Boccaccio. In 
the Italian tale, CJiletta is the daughter of a cel- 
ebrated physician attached to the court of Rous- 
sillon; she is reprkented as a rich heiress, who 
rejects many suitors of worth and rank in con- 
sequence of her secret attachment to the young 
Bertram de Roussillpn. She cures the King of 
France of a grievous distemper, by one of her 
father's prescriptions; and she asks and receives 
as' her reward the young Count of Roussillon as 
her wedded husband.' He forsakes her on their 
wedding-day, and she retires, by his order, to 
his territory of Roussillon. There she is received 
with honor, takes state upon her in her husband's 
absence as the "lady of the land," administers 
justice and rules her lord's dominions so wisely 
and so well, that she is universally loved and rev- 
. erenced by his subjects. In the meantime, the 
count, instead of rejoining her, flies to Tuscany, 
and the rest of the story is closely followed in the 
drama. The beauty, wisdom, and royal demeanor 
of Giletta are charmingly described, as well as 

at nrst entitled by Shakespeare "Love's Labour Won." 
Why the title was altered, or by whom, I cannot dis- 

104 Sbalsespcate's Ijctotnes. 

her fervent love for Bertram. But Helena, in 
the play, derives no dignity or interest fxQju place 
or circumstance, arid YesTs for" all' our sympathy 
and respect solely upon the truth and intensity 
of her affections. She is, indeed, represented to 
us as one 

Whose beauty did astonish the survey 
Of richest eyes ; whose words all ears took captive ; 
Whose dear perfection hearts that scorn'd to serve 
Humbly call'd mistress. 

As her dignity is derived from mental power, 
without any alloy of pride, so her humility has 
a peculiar grace. If she feels and repines over 
her lowly birth, it is merely as an obstacle which 
separates her from the man she loves. She is 
more sensible to his greatness than her own lit- 
tleness: she is continually looking from herself 
up to him, not from him down to herself. She 
has been bred up under the same roof with him ; 
she has adored him from infancy. Her love is 
not "th' infection taken in at the eyes," nor kin- 
dled by youthful romance: it appears to have 
taken root in her being, to have grown with her 
years, and to have gradually absorbed all her 
thoughts and faculties, until her fancy "carries 
no favor in it but Bertram's," and "there is no 
living, none, if Bertram be away." 

It may be said that Bertram, arrogant, way- 
ward, and heartless, does not justify this'ardent^ 
and deep devotion. But Helena does not behold 
him with our eyes, but as he is "sanctified in her 
idolatrous fancy." Dr. Johnson says he cannot 

Melcnu. 105 

reconcile himself to a man who marries Helena 
like a coward and leaves her like a profligate. 
This is much too severe ; in the first place, there 
is no necessity that we should reconcile ourselves 
to him. In this consists a part of the wonder- 
ful beauty of the character of Helena — a part 
of its womanly truth, which Johnson, who ac- 
cuses Bertram, arid those who so plausibly de- 
fend him, did not understand. If it never hap- 
pened in real life that a woman, richly endued 
with heaven's best ^ifts, loved with all her heart, 
and soul, and strength^a^man unegual_to_or_un-, 
worthy of her, and to whose faults herself alone 
was blind, I would give up the point; but if it 
be in nature, why should it not be in Shakespeare ? 
We are not to look into Bertram's character for 
the spring and source of Helena's love for him, 
but into her own. She loves Bertram because 
she loves him ! a woman's reason, but here, and 
sometimes eleswhere, all-sufficient. \'k\',<- 

And although Helena tells herself that she 
loves in vain, a conviction stronger than reason 
tells her that she does not:ier love is like a re- 
ligion, pure, holy, and deep: the blessedness to 
whicir~she has lifted her thoughts is for ever 
before her ; to despair would be a crime — ^it would 
1)6 to cast herself away and die. The faith of 
her affection, combining with the natural energy 
of her character, believing all things possible, 
makes them so. It could say to the mountain of 
pride which stands between her and her hopes, 
"Be thou removed !" and it is removed. This is the 
solution of her behavior in the marriage scene. 

106 Sbaftcspcarc'0,f)ctoine0. 

where Bertram, with obvious reluctance and dis- 
dain, accepts her hand, which the king, his feudal 
lord and guardian, forces on him. Her maid- 
enly feeling is at first shocked, and she shrinks 
back — 

That you are well restor'd, my lord, I am glad: 
Let the rest go. 

But shall she weakly relinquish the golden op- 
portunity, and dash the cup from her lips at the 
moment it is presented? Shall she cast away 
the treasure for which she has ventured both life 
and honor, when it is just within her grasp? Shall 
she, after compromising her feminine delicacy 
by the public disclosure of her preference, be 
thrust back into shame, "to blush out the remain- 
der of her life," and die a poor, lost, scorned 
thing? This would be very pretty and interest- 
ing, and characteristic in Viola or Ophelia, but 
not at all consistent with that high, determined 
spirit, that moral energy, with which Helena is 
portrayed. Pride is the only obstacle opposed 
to her. She is not despised and rejected as a 
woman, but as a poor physician's daughter; and 
this, to an understanding so clear, so strong, so 
just as Helena's, is not felt as an unpardonable 
insult. The mere pride of rank and birth is a 
prejudice of which she cannot comprehend the 
force, because her mind towers so immeasurably 
above it ; and, compared to the infinite love which 
swells within her own bosom, it sinks into noth- 
ing. She cannot conceive that he to whom she 
has devoted her heart and truth, her soul, her 

Melena. 107 

life, her service, must not one day love her in re- 
turn, and once her own beyond the reach of fate, 
that her cares, her caresses, her unwearied, pa- 
tient tenderness, will not at last "win her lord 
to look upon her" — 

.... For time will bring on summer, 
When briers shall have leaves as well as thorns. 
And be as sweet as sharp ! 

It is this fond faith which, hoping all things, 
enables her to endure all things; which hallows 
and dignifies the surrender of her woman's pride, 
making it a sacrifice on which virtue and love 
throw a mingled incense. 

IhfLS££n£injvliich_.tbe_Countess .extfttts .from,. 
Hp1f.n^he confession of her love must, as an il- 
lustrationT B Fgivetn TereT" IfiSTpef hSps , thefinest 
in the whole play, an3~ brings out all the striking 
jjpints of TTeKn's ^character, To which I have al- 
ready alluded. We must not fail to remark, 
that though the acknowledgment is wrung from 
her with an agony which seems to convulse her 
whole being, yet when once she has given it sol- 
emn utterance, she recovers her presence of mind, - 
and asserts her native dignity. In her justifica- 
tion of her feelings and her conduct there is 
neither sophistry, nor self-deception, nor pre- - 
sumption, but a noble simplicity combined with 
the most impassioned earnestness ; while the lan- 
guage naturally rises in its eloquent beauty, as 
the tide of feeling, now first let loose from the 
bursting heart,, comes pouring forth in words. 
The whole scene is wonderfully beautiful. 

108 Sbaliespeare'6 tterofnes. 


What is your pleasure, madam? 


You know, Helen, I am a mother to you. 


Mine honourable mistress. 


Nay, a mother: 
Why not a mother? When I said a mother, 
Methought you saw a serpent: what's in mother, 
That you start at it ? I say, I am your mother ; 
And put you in the catalogue of those 
That were enwombed mine: 'tis often seen 
Adoption strives with nature; and choice breeds 
A native slip to us frpm foreign seeds. 
You ne'er oppress'd ine with a mother's groan. 
Yet I express to you a mother's care ; — 
God's mercy, maiden; does it curd thy blood 
To say I am thy mother? What's the matter, 
That this distemper'd messenger of wet. 
The many-color'd Iris, rounds thine eye? 
Why? — ^that you are my daughter? 


That I am not 


I say, I am your mother. 


Pardon, madam: 
The Count Roussillon cannot be my brother. 
I am from humble, he from honour'd name; 
No note upon my parents, his all noble: 
My master, my dear lord he is: and T 
His servant live, and will his vassal die: 
He must not be my brother. 

«clcna. 109 


Nor I your mother? 


You are my mother, madam ; would you were 

(So that my lord, your son, were not my brother; 

Indeed my mother, or, were you both our mothers, 

I care no more for, than I do for heaven," 

So I were not his sister ; can't no other, 

But I, your daughter, he must be my brother? 


Yes, Helen, you might be my daughter-in-law; 
God shield, you mean it not ! daughter and mother 
So strive upon your pulse: what, pale again? 
My fear hath catch'd your fondness : now I see 
The mystery of your loneliness, and find 
Your salt tears' head. Now to all sense 'tis gross 
You love my son ; invention is asham'd. 
Against the proclamation of thy passion. 
To say, thou dost not: therefore tell me true; 
But tell me, then, 'tis so: — for, look, thy cheeks 
Confess it, one to the other. 

Speak, is't so? 
If it be so, you have wound a goodly clue! 
If it be not, forswear 't; howe'er, I charge thee, 
As heaven shall work in me for thy avail. 
To tell me truly. 


Good madam, pardon me I 


Do you love my son ? 


Your pardon, noble mistress! 
"i.e. I care as much for as I do for heaven. 

110 SbaFieepeare's Ibecoinea. 


Lore you my son? 


Do not you love him, madam? 


Go not about; my love hath in 't a bond, 
Whereof the world takes note : come, come, disclose 
The state of your affection; for your passions 
Have to the full appeach'd. 

Then I confess. 
Here on my knee, before high heaven and you 
That before you, and next unto high heaven, 
I love your son : — 

My friends were poor, but honest; so's my love. 
Be not offended; for it hurts not him 
That he is loved of me ; I follow him not 
By any token of presumptuous suit; 
Nor would I have him till I do deserve him : 
Yet never know how that desert should be. 
I know I love in vain; strive against hope; 
Yet in this captious and intenible sieve 
I still pour in the waters of my love. 
And lack not to love still : thus, Indian-like, 
Religious in mine error, I adore 
The sun that looks upon his worshipper, 
But knows of him no more. My dearest madam, 
' Let not your hate encounter with my love. 
For loving where you do : but if yourself. 
Whose aged honour cites a virtuous youth. 
Did ever in so true a flame of liking 
Wish chastely, and love dearly, that your Dian 
Was both herself and love; O then give pity 
To her whose state is such, that cannot choose 
But lend and give, where she is sure to lose; 
That seeks not to find that her search implies. 
But, riddle-like, lives sweetly where she dies. 

Mclcna. Ill 

This old Countess of Roussillon is a charming 
sketch. She is like one of Titian's old women, 
who still, amid their wrinkles, remind us of that 
soul of beauty and sensibility which must have 
animated them when young. She is a fine con- 
trast to Lady Capulet — benign, cheerful, and af- 
fectionate; she has a benevolent enthusiasm 
which neither age, nor sorrow, nor pride can wear 
away. Thus, when she is brought to believe that 
Helen nourishes a secret attachment for her son, 
shfe observes — 

This thorn 
Doth to our rose of youth rightly belong, 
It is the show and seal of nature's truth, 
iWhen love's strong passion is impress'd in youth. 

Her fond, maternal love for Helena, whom she 
has brought up, her pride in her good qualities, 
overpowering all her own prejudices of rank and 
birth, are most natural in such a mind; and her 
indignation against her son, however strongly ex- 
pressed, never forgets the mother. 

What angel shall 
Bless this unworthy husband? he cannot thrive 
Unless her prayers, whom heaven delights to hear 
And loves to grant, reprieve him from the wrath 
Of greatest justice. ~,. 

Which of them both 
Is dearest to me — I have no skill in sense. 
To make distinction. y 

This is very skilfully, as well as delicately con- 
ceived. In rejecting those poetical and accidental 

112 Sbaftespeare's Ibcroines. 

advantages which Giletta possesses in the orig- 
inal story, Shakespeare has substituted the beau- 
tiful character of the CounteSs; and he has con- 
trived that, as the character qi Helena should rest 
for its internal charm on the depth of her own 
affections, so it should depend for its external 
interest on the affection she inspires. The en- 
thusiastic tenderness of the Countess, the admira- 
tion and respect of the king, Lafeu, and all who 
are brought in connection with her, make amends 
for the humiliating neglect of Bertram, and cast 
round Helen that collateral light which Giletta in 
the story owes to other circumstances — striking 
indeed, and well imagined, but not, I think, so 
finely harmonizing with the character. 

It is also very natural that Helen, with the in- 
tuitive discernment of a pure and upright mind, 
and the penetration of a quick-witted woman, 
should be the first to detect the falsehood- and 
cowardice of the boaster Parolles, who imposes 
on every one else. 

It has been remarked that there is less of poet- 
ical imagery in this play than in many of the 
others. A certain solidity in Helen's character 
takes place of the ideal power; and, with con- 
sistent truth of keeping, the same predominance 
of feeling over fancy, of the reflective over the 
imaginative faculty, is maintained through the 
whole dialogue. Yet the fitiest passages in the 
serious scenes are those appropriated to her. They 
are familiar, and celebrated as quotations; but, 
fully to understand their beauty and truth, they 
should be considered relatively to her character 

Helena. 113 

and situation. Thus, when in speaking of Ber- 
tram she says "that he is one to whom she wishes 
well," the consciousness of the disproportion be- 
tween her words and her feelings draws from her 
this beautiful and affecting observation, so just 
in itself, and so true to her situation and to the 
sentiment which fills her whole heart : 

'Tis pity- 
That wishing well had not a body in 't 
Which might be felt : that we, the poorer born. 
Whose baser stars do shut us up in wishes. 
Might with effects of them follow our friends. 
And act what we must only think, which never 
Returns us thanks. 

Some of her general reflections have a senten- 
tious depth and a contemplative melancholy which 
remind us of Isabella : 

Our remedies oft in themselves do lie, 
Which we ascribe to heaven; the fated sky 
Gives us free scope; only doth backward pull 
Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull. 

Impossible be strange events to those 

That weigh their pains in sense; and do suppose 

What hath been cannot be. 

He that of greatest works is finisher, 
Oft does them by the weakest minister: 
So holy writ in babes hath judgment shown. 
When judges have been babes. 

Oft expectation fails, and most oft there 
Where most it promises ; and oft it hits 
Where hope is coldest and despair most sitSi 

114 Sbafiespeare's Ibecoines. 

Her sentiments in the same manner are re- 
markable for the union of profound sense with 
the most passionate feeling; and when her lan- 
guage is figurative, which is seldom, the picture 
presented to us is invariably touched either with 
a serious, a lofty, or a melancholy beauty. For 
instance : 

It were all one 
That I should love a bright particular star, 
And think to wed it — he's so far above me'. 

And when she is brought to choose a husband 
from among the young lords at the court, her 
heart having already made its election, the 
strangeness of that very privilege for which she 
had ventured all nearly overpowers her, and she 
says beautifully : 

The blushes on my cheeks thus whisper me, 
"We blush that thou shouldst choose; — but be refused. 
Let the white death sit on that cheek for ever. 
We'll ne'er come there again!" 

In her soliloquy after she has been forsaken 
by Bertram, the beauty lies in the intense feel-- 
ing, the force and simplicity of the expressions.- 
There is little imagery, and wherever it occurs, 
it is as bold as it is beautiful, and springs out. 
of the energy of the sentiment and the pathos . 
of the situation. She has been reading his cruel 

Till I have no wife I have nothing in France. 
'Tis bitter ! 

Helena. 115 

Nothing in France, until he has no wife ! 

Thou shalt have none, Roussillon, none in France; 

Then hast thou all again. Poor lord; is't I 

That chase thee from thy country, and expose 

Those tender limbs of thine to the event 

Of the none-sparing war? And is it I 

That drive thee from the sportive court, where thou 

Wast shot at with fair eyes, to be the mark 

Of smoky muskets? O you leaden messengers, *-^ 

ThatjijlajjpQn the violent jgeed'oF fire, 

Fly with^ f alse_ aimj move the still^piercing air. 

That sings with piercing, do not touch my lofdl 

Whoever shoots at him, I set him there; 

Whoever charges on his forward breast, 

I am the caitiff that do hold him to it; 

And though I kill him not, I am the cause 

His death was so effected: better 'twere 

I met the ravin lion when he roared 

With sharp constraint of hunger; better 'twere 

That all the miseries which nature owes 

Were mine at once. 

No, no, although 
The air of paradise did fan the house. 
And angels ofiiced all : I will be gone. 

Though I cannot go to the length of those 
who have defended Bertram on almost every 
point, still I think the censure which Johnson 
has passed on the character is much too severe. 
Bertram is certainly not a pattern hero of ro- 
mance, but full of faults such as we meet with 
every day in men of his age and class. He is 
a bold, ardent, self-willed youth, just dismissed 
into the world from domestic indulgence, with 
an excess of aristocratic and military pride, but 
not without some sense of true honor and gen- 

116 SbaRespcare's f)ero(nc6. 

erosity. I have lately read a defence of Ber- 
tram's character, written with much elegance and 
plausibility. "The young Count," says this cri- 
tic, "comes before us possessed of a good heart, 
and of no mean capacity, but with a haughtiness 
which threatens to dull the kinder passions and 
to cloud the intellect. This is the inevitable con- 
sequence of an illustrious education. The glare 
of his birthright has dazzled his young faculties. 
Perhaps the first words he could distinguish were 
from the important nurse, giving elaborate di- 
rections about his lordship's pap. As soon 
as he could walk, a crowd of submissive 
vassals doffed their caps, and hailed his 
first appearance on his legs. His spelling- 
book had the arms of the family emblaz- 
oned on the cover. He had been accus- 
tomed to hear himself called the great, the mighty 
son of Roussillon, ever since he was a helpless 
child. A succession of complacent tutors would 
by no means destroy the illusion; and it is from 
their hands that Shakespeare receives him while 
yet in his minority. An overweening pride of 
birth is Bertram's great foible. To cure him of 
this, Shakespeare sends him to the wars, that he 
may win fame for himself, and thus exchange a 
sliadow for a reality. There the greafidignity 
, that his valor acquired for him places him on an 
equality with any one of his ancestors, and he 
is no longer beholden to them alone for the 
world's observance. Thus in his own person he 
discovers there is something better than mere 
hereditary honors, and his heart is prepared to 

Helena. 117 

acknowledge that the entire devotion of a Helen's 
love is of more worth than the court-bred smiles 
of a princess." 

It is not extraordinary that, in the first in- 
stance, his spirit should revolt at the idea of mar- 
rying his mother's "waiting gentlewoman," or 
that he should refuse her; yet when the king, 
his feudal lord, whose despotic authority was in 
this case legal and indisputable, threatens him 
with the extremity of his wrath and vengeance, 
that he should submit himself to a hard neces- 
sity was too consistent with the manners of the 
time to be called cowardice. Such forced mar- 
riages were not uncommon even in our own coun- 
try, when the right of wardship, now vested in 
the Lord Chancellor, was exercised with uncon- 
trolled and often cruel despotism by the sover- 

There is an old ballad, in which the king be- 
stows a maid of low degree on a noble of his 
court, and the undisguised scorn and reluctance 
of the knight, and the pertinacity of the lady, are 
in point : 

He brought her dowa full forty pound 

Tyed up within a glove: 
"Fair maid, I'll give the same to thee. 

Go seek another love." 

"O, ni have none of your gold," she said, 
"Nor I'll have none of your fee; 

But your fair bodye I must have. 
The king hath granted me." 

118 SbaRcspeare's IBeroincs. 

Sir William ran and fetched her then 

Five hundred pounds in gold,. 
Saying, "Fair maid, take this to thee. 

My fault will ne'er be told." 

" "Tis not the gold that shall me tempt," 
These words then answered she; 

"But your own bodye I must have, 
The king hath granted me." 

"Would I had drank the water clear 

When I did drink the wine. 
Rather than any shepherd's brat 

Should be a ladye of mine!"" 

Bertram's disgust at the tyranny which has 
made his freedom the payment of another's debt, 
which has united him to a woman whose merits 
are not towards him — whose secret love and long- 
enduring faith are yet unknown and untried — 
might well make his bride distasteful to him. He 
flies her on the very day of their marriage, most 
like a wilful, haughty, angry boy, but not like 
a profligate. On other points he is not so easily 
defended ; and Shakespeare, we see, has not de- 
fended, but corrected him. The- latter part of 
the play is more perplexing than pleasing. We 
do not indeed repine with Dr. Johnson, that Ber- 
tram, after all his misdemeanors, is "dismissed 
to happiness;" but, notwithstanding the clever 
defence that has been made for him, he has our 
pardon rather than our sympathy; and for mine 
own part, I could find it easier to love Bertram 
as Helena does, than to excuse him — her love 
for him is his best excuse. 

" Percy's "Reliques." " 

perOfta. 119 


In Viola and Perdita the distinguishing traits 
are the same — sentiment and elegance : thus we 
associate them together, though nothing can be 
more distinct to the fancy than the Doric grace 
of Perdita, compared to the romantic sweetness 
of Viola. They are created out of the same ma- 
terials, and are equal to each other in the ten- 
derness, delicacy, and poetical beauty of the con- 
ception. They are both more imaginative than 
passionate; but Perdita is the more imaginative 
of the two. She is the union of the pastoral and 
romantic with the classical and poetical, as if a 
dryad of the woods had turned shepherdess. 
The perfections with which the poet has so lav- 
ishly endowed her sit upon her with a certain 
careless and picturesque grace, "as though they 
had fallen upon her unawares." Thus Belphoebe, 
in the "Fairy Queen," issues from the flowering 
forest with hair and garments all besprinkled 
with the leaves and blossoms they had entangled 
in her flight ; and so arrayed by chance and "heed- 
less hap," takes all hearts with "stately presence 
and with princely port," — most like to Perdita ! 

The story of Florizel and Perdita is but an 
episode in the "Winter's Tale;" and the char- 
acter of Perdita is properly kept subordinate to 
that of her mother, Hermione: yet the picture 

120 Sbaftespeace's "toexoincs. 

is perfectly finished in every part; — ^Juliet her- 
self is not more firmly and distinctly drawn. But 
the coloring in Perdita is more silvery light and 
delicate; the pervading sentiment more touched 
with the ideal; compared with Juliet, she is like 
a Guido hung beside a Giorgione, or one of Pae- 
siello's airs heard after one of Mozart's. 

The qualities which impart to Perdita her dis- 
tinct individuality are the beautiful combination 
of the pastoral with the elegant, of simplicity with 
elevation, of spirit with sweetness. The exqui- 
site delicacy of the picture is apparent. To un- 
derstand and appreciate its effective truth and 
nature we should place Perdita beside some of 
the nymphs of Arcadia, or the Clorises and Syl- 
vias of the Italian pastorals, who, however grace- 
ful in themselves, when opposed to Perdita, seem 
to melt away into mere poetical abstractions: 
as, in Spenser, the fair but fictitious Florimel, 
which the subtle enchantress had moulded out 
of snow, "vermeil tinctur'd," and informed with 
an airy spirit, that knew "all wiles of woman's 
wits," fades and dissolves away when placed next 
to the real Florimel, in her warm, breathing, hu- 
man loveliness. 

Perdita does not appear till the fourth act, and 
the whole of the character is developed in the 
course of a single scene (the third), with a com- 
pleteness of effect which leaves nothing to be re- 
quired, nothing to be supplied. She is first in- 
troduced in the dialogue between herself and 
Florizel, where she compares her own lowly state 
to his princely rank, and expresses her fears of 

©etOfta. 121 

the issue of their unequal attachment. With all her 
timidity and her sense of the distance which Sep- 
arates her from her lover, she breathes not a sin- 
gle word which could lead us to impugn either 
her delicacy or her dignity. 

These your unusual weeds to each part of you 
Do give a life — no shepherdess, but Flora 
Peering in April's front ; this your sheep-shearing 
Is as the meeting of the petty gods, 
And you the queen on 't. 


Sir, my gracious lord. 

To chide at your extremes it not becomes me ; 
O, pardon that I name them : your high self. 
The gracious mark o' the land, you have obscur'd 
With a swain's bearing; and me, poor lowly maid, 
Most goddess-like prank'd up : — but that our feasts 
In every mess have folly, and the feeders 
Digest it with a custom, I should blush 
To see you so attired : sworn, I think. 
To show myself a glass. 

The impression of her perfect beauty and airy 
elegance of demeanor is conveyed in two exqui- 
site passages : 

What you do 
Still betters what is done. When you speak, sweet, 
I'd have you do it ever. When you sing, 
I'd have you buy and sell so, so give alms. 
Pray so, and for the ordering your affairs 
To sing them too. When you do dance, I wish you 
A wave o'er the sea, that you might ever do 
Nothing but that ; move still, still so, and own 
No other function. 

122 Sbahcspcare'e Iberoinca. 

I take thy hand ; this hand 
As soft as dove's down, and as white as it; 
Or Ethiopian's tooth, or the fann'd snow, 
That's bolted by the northern blasts twice o'er. 

The artless manner in which her innate nobil- 
ity of soul shines forth through her pastoral dis- 
guise is thus brought before us at once : 

This is the prettiest low-born lass that ever 
Ran on the greensward ; nothing she does or seems, 
But smacks of something greater than herself; 
Too noble for this place. 

Her natural loftiness of spirit breaks out 
where she is menaced and reviled by the king as 
one whom his son has degraded himself by merely 
looking on; she bears the royal frown without 
quailing; but the moment he is gone, the imme- 
diate recollection of herself, of her humble state, 
of her hapless love, is full of beauty, tenderness, 
and nature : 

Even here undone! 
I was not much afeard: for once, or twice, 
I was about to speak ; and tell him plainly 
The self-same sun that shines upon his couft 
Hides not his visage from our cottage, but 
Looks on alike. 

Will 't please you, sir, be gone? 
I told you what would come of this. Beseech you, 
Of your own state take care ; this dream .of mine. 
Being now awake, I'll queen it no inch further, 
But milk my ewes, and weep. 

How often have I told you 'twould be thus? 
How often said, my dignity would last 
But till 'twere known? 

petdita. 123 


It cannot fail, but by 
The violation of my faith ; and then ' 
Let nature crush the sides o' the earth together 
And mar the seeds within ! Lift up thy looks. 

* * * * ^i 

Not for Bohemia, nor the pomp that may 
Be thereat glean'd ; for all the sun sees, or 
The close earth wombs, or the profound seas hide 
In unknown fathoms, will I break my oath 
To thee, my fair beloved! 

Perdita has another characteristic, which lends 
.to the poetical delicacy of the delineation a cer- 
tain strength and moral elevation wrhich is pe- 
culiarly striking. It is that sense of truth and 
rectitude, that upright simplicity of mind, which 
disdains all crooked and indirect means, which 
would not stoop for an instant to dissemblance, 
and is mingled with a noble confidence in her 
love and in her loyer. In this spirit is her an- 
swer to Camillo, who says, courtier-like, 

Besides, you know 
Prosperity's the very bond of love; 
Whose fresh complexion, and whose heart together, 
Aflaiction alters. 

To which she replies, 

One of these is true; 
I think aiHiction may subdue the cheek, 
But not take in the mind. / 

In that elegant scene where she receives the 
guests at the sheep-shearing, and distributes the 
flowers, there is in the full flow of the poetry a 
most beautiful and striking touch of individual 

124 Sbaftespeare's Ibcrolnes. 

character: but here it is impossible to mutilate 
the dialogue. 

Reverend sirs, 
For you there's rosemary and rue ; these keep 
Seeming and savour all the winter long; 
Grace and remembrance be to you both. 
And welcome to our shearing ! 


(A fair one you are), well you fit our ages 
With flowers of winter! 

Sir, the year growing ancient. 
Not yet on summer's death, nor on the birth 
Of trembling winter, the fairest flowers o' the season 
Are our carnations and streak'd gilliflowers. 
Which some call nature's bastards: of that kind 
Our rustic garden's barren; and I care not 
To get slips of them. 


Wherefore, gentle maiden, 
Do you neglect them? 

For I have heard it said 
There is an art, which, in their piedness, shares 
With great creating nature. 


Say there be; 
Yet nature is made better by no mean. 
But nature makes that mean : so o'er that art 
Which, you say, adds to nature, is an art 
That nature makes. You see, sweet maid, we marry 
A gentle scion to the wildest stock ; 

iPerOfta. 125 

And make conceive a bark of baser kind 
By bud of nobler race. This is an art 
Which does mend nature — change it rather; but 
The art itself is nature. 


So it is. 


Then make your garden rich in gillyvors," 
And do not call them bastards. 


I'll not put 
The dibble in earth to set one slip of them; 
No more than, were I painted, I would wish 
This youth should say 'twere well. 

It has been well remarked of this passage, that 
Perdita does not attempt to answer the reason- 
ing of Polixenes : she gives up the argument, but, 
woman-like, retains her own opinion, or, rather, 
her sense of right, unshaken by his sophistry. 
She goes on in a strain of poetry, which comes 
over the soul like music and fragrance mingled; 
we seem to inhale the blended odors of a thou- 
sand flowers, till the sense faints with their sweet- 
ness ; and she concludes with a touch of passion- 
ate sentiment, which melts into the very heart : 

O Proserpina! 
For the flowers now, that, frighted, thou lett'st fall 
From Dis's waggon! daffodils, 
That come before the swallow dares, and take 
The winds of March with beauty; violets dim, 
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes, 

" Gillyflowers. 

126 Sbafteepeare's Ibecoines. 

Of Cytherea's breath; pale primroses, 
That die unmarried, ere they can behold 
Bright Phoebus in his strength, a malady, 
Most incident to maids; bold oxlips, and 
The crown-imperial; lilies of all kinds, 
The flower-de-luce being one! O! these I lack 
To make you garlands of; and, my sweet friend. 
To strew him o'er and o'er. 


What! like a corse? 


No, like a bank, for Love to lie and play on ; 
Not like a corse : or if, — not to be buried. 
But quick, and in mine arms ! 

This love of truth, this conscientiousness, 
which forms so distinct a feature in the char- 
acter of Perdita, and mingles with its picturesque 
delicacy a certain firmness and dignity, is main- 
tained consistently to the last. When the two 
lovers fly together from Bohemia, and take ref- 
urge in the court of Leontes, the real father of 
Perdita, Florizel presents himself before the king 
with a feigned tale, in which he has been art- 
fully instructed by the old counsellor Camillo. 
During this scene Perdita does not utter a word. 
In the strait in which they are placed, she can- 
not deny the story which Florizel relates — she 
will not confirm it. Her silence, in spite of all 
the compliments and greetings of Leontes, has 
a peculiar and characteristic grace; and at the 
conclusion of the scene, when they are betrayed, 
the truth bursts from her_^ as if instinctively, and 
she exclaims, with emotion, 

IPct&fta, 127 

The heaven sets spies upon us — will not have 
Our contract celebrated. 

After this scene Perdita says very little. The 
description of her grief, while listening to the 
relation of her mother's death — 

One of the prettiest touches of all was, when at the 
relation of the queen's death, with the manner how she 
came to 't, how attentiveness wounded his daughter ; till, 
from one sign of dolour to another, she did, with an 
alas! I would fain say, bleed tears — 

her deportment, too, as she stands gazing on the 
statue of Hermione, fixed in wonder, admiration, 
and sorrow, as if she, too, were marble — 

O royal piece! 
There's magic in thy majesty, which has 
From thy admiring daughter took the spirits, f 

Standing like stone with thee ! — 

are touches of character conveyed indirectly, and 
which serve to give a more finished eifect to this 
beautiful picture. 

128 Sbaiicspe&te'si Iberofnee. 


As the innate dignity of Perdita pierces 
through her rustic disguise, so the exquisite re- 
finement of Vipla triumphs over her mascuHne 
attire. Viola is, perhaps, in a degree less ele- 
vated and ideal than Perdita, but with a touch 
of sentiment more profound and heart-stirring; 
she is "deep-learn'd in the lore of love," — at 
least, theoretically, — and speaks as masterly on 
the subject as Perdita does of flowers. 


How dost thou like this tune? 


It gives a very echo to the seat 
Where Love is thron'd. 

And again, 

If I did love you in my master's flame. 
With such a sufifering, such a deadly life— 
In your denial I would find no sense, 
I would not understand it. 


■ Why, what would you? 

Vtola. 129 


Make me a willow cabin at your gate, 
And call upon my soul within the house; 
Write loyal cantons " of contemned love, 
And sing them loud even in the dead of night 
Holla your name to the reverberate hills, 
And make the babbling gossip of the air 
Cry out, Olivia! O! you should not rest 
Between the elements of air and earth. 
But you should pity me. 


You might do much. 

The situation and the character of Viola have 
been censured for their want of consistency and 
probability: it is therefore worth while to exam- 
ine how far this criticism is true. As for her 
situation in the drama (of which she is properly 
the heroine), it is shortly this. She is ship- 
wrecked on the coast of Illyria; she is alone and 
without protection in a strange country. She 
wishes to enter into the service of the Countess 
Olivia ; but she is assured that this is impossible ; 
"for the lady, having recently lost an only and 
beloved brother, has abjured the sight of men, 
has shut herself up in her palace, and will admit 
no kind of suit." In this perplexity, Viola re- 
members to have heard her father speak with 
praise and admiration of Orsino, the duke of the 
country; and having ascertained that he is not 
married, and that therefore his court is not a 
proper asylum for her in her feminine character, 

"i.e. cansons, songs. 

130 Sbaftcspcare's Ibetolnes. 

she attires herself in the disguise of a page, as the 
best protection against uncivil comments, till she 
can gain some tidings of her brother. 

If we carry our thoughts back to a romantic 
and chivalrous age, there is surely sufficient prob- 
ability here for all the purposes of poetry. To 
pursue the thread of Viola's destiny; — she is en- 
gaged in the service of the Duke, whom she finds 
"fancy-sick" for the love of Olivia. We are left 
to infer (for so it is hinted in the first scene), 
that . this Duke — who, with his accomplishments 
and his personal attractions, his taste for music, 
his chivalrous tenderness, and his unrequited love, 
is really a very fascinating and poetical person- 
age, though a Httle passionate and fantastic — had 
already made some impression on Viola's imag- 
ination; and when she comes to play the con- 
fidante, and to be loaded with favors and kind- 
ness in her assumed character, that she should 
be touched by a passion made up of pity, admira- 
tion, gratitude, and tenderness, does not, I think, 
in any way detract from the genuine sweetness 
and delicacy of her character, for "she never 
told her love." 

Now all this, as the critic wisely observes, may 
not present a very just picture of life ; and it may 
also fail to impart any moral lesson for the es- 
pecial profit of well-bred young ladies; but is it 
not in truth and in nature? Did it ever fail to 
charm or to mterest, to seize on the coldest fancy, 
to touch the most insensible heart? 

Viola then is the chosen favorite of the ena- 
moured Duke, and becomes his messenger to 


IDfoIa. 131 

Olivia, and the interpreter of his sufferings to 
that inaccessible beauty. In her character of a 
youthful page, she attracts the favor of Olivia, 
and excites the jealousy of her lord. The 
situation is critical and delicate; but how ex- 
quisitely is the character of Viola fitted to her 
part, carrying her through the ordeal with all 
the inward and spintualgrace of modesty ! What 
Tieautiful propriety in the distinction drawn be- 
tween Rosalind and Viola ! The wild sweetness, 
the frolic humor, which sports free and unblamed 
amid the shades of Ardennes, would ill become 
Viola, whose playfulness . is assumed._as. part of 
her disguise as a court page, and is guarded by 
the strictest delicacy. She has not, like Rosa- 
lind, a saucy enjoyment in her own incognito; 
her disguise does^ not sit so easily upon her ; her 
heart does not beat freely under it. As in the 
old ballad, where "Sweet William" is detected 
weeping in secret over her "man's array,"^* so 
in Viola a sweet consciousness of her feminine 
nature is for ever breaking through her mas- 
querade : 

And on her cheek is ready with a blush. 
Modest as morning, when she coldly eyes 
The youthful Phoebus. 

She plays her part well, but never forgets, 
nor allows us to forget, that she is playing a 

" Percy's "Reliques," vol. iii. See the ballad of "The 
Lady turning Serving Man." 

132 Sbalieepeate'd f)eto{ne0. 


Are you a comedian? 


No, my profound heart ! and yet, by the very fangs of 
malice I swear, I am not that I play! 

And thus she comments on it : 

Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness, 
Wherein the pregnant enemy does mucti. 
How easy is it for the proper-false 
In women's waxen hearts to set their forms I 
Alas! our frailty is the cause, not w& 

The feminine cowardice of Viola, which will 
not allow her even to affect a courage becoming 
her attire, her horror at the idea of drawing a 
sword, is very natural and characteristic, and 
produces a most humorous effect, even at the 
very moment it charms and interests us. 

Contrasted with the d^eg,_ silent, patient love 
of Viola for the Duke, we have the ladylike wil- 
fulness of Olivia; and her sudden passion, or 
rather fancy, for the disguised page, takes so 
beautiful a coloring of poetry and sentiment, that 
we do not think her forward. Olivia is like a 
princess of romance, and has all the privileges 
of one ; she is, like Portia, high born and high 
bred, mistress over her servants — ^but not, like 
Portia, "queen o'er herself." She has never in 
her life been opposed: the first contradiction, 
therefore, rouses all the woman in her, and turns 
a caprice into a headlong passion: yet she apol- 
ogizes for herself — 

IDiola. 138 

I have said too much unto a heart of stone, 
And laid mine honour too unchary out; 
There's something in me that reproves my fault; 
But such a headstrong potent fault it is. 
That it but mocks reproof ! 

And, in the midst of her self-abandonment, never 
allows us to contemn even while we pity her: 

What shall you ask of me that I'll deny. 
That, honour saved, may upon asking give? 

The distance of rank which separates the coun- 
tess from the youthful page — the real sex of 
Viola — the dignified elegance of Olivia's deport- 
ment, except where passion gets the better of her 
■ pride — ^her consistent coldness towards the duke 
— ^the description of that "smooth, discreet, and 
stable bearing" with which she rules her house- 
hold — her generous care for her steward, Mal- 
volio, in the midst of her own distress, — ^all these 
circumstances raise Olivia in our fancy, and ren- 
der her caprice for the page a source of amuse- 
ment and interest, not a subject of reproach, 
"Twelfth Night" is a genuine comedy — a perpet- 
ual spring of the gayest and the sweetest fan- 
cies. In artificial society, men and women are 
divided into caste and classes, and it is rarely that 
extremes in character or manners can approx- 
imate. To blend into one harmonious picture 
the utmost grace and refinement of sentiment, and 
the broadest effects of humor, the most poignant 
wit and the most indulgent benignity; in short, 
to bring before us, in the same scene, Viola and 

134 Sbahcspcare'g Iberofnes. 

Olivia, with Malvolio and Sir Toby, belonged 
only to Nature and to Shakespeare. 

A woman's affections, however strong, are sen- 
timents when they run smooth ; and become pas- 
sions only when opposed. 

In Juliet and Helena love is depicted as a pas- 
sion, properly so called ; that is, a natural impulse 
throbbing in the heart's blood, and mingling with 
the very sources of life ; a sentiment more or less 
modified by the imagination; a strong, abiding 
principle and motive, excited by resistance, act- 
ing upon the will, animating all the other facul- 
ties, and again influenced by them. This is the 
most complex aspect of love, and in these two 
characters it is depicted in colors at once the most 
various, the most intense, and the most brilliant. 

In Viola and Perdita love, being less complex, 
appears more refined; more a sentiment than a 
passion — a compound of impulse and fancy, while 
the reflective powers and moral energies are more 
faintly developed. The same remark applies also 
to Julia and Silvia in "The Two Gentlemen of 
Verona," and, in a greater degree, to Hermia and 
Helena in the "Midsummer Night's Dream." In 
the two latter, though perfectly discriminated, 
love takes the visionary, fanciful cast which be- 
longs to the whole piece; it is scarcely a passion 
or a sentiment, but a dreamy enchantment, a 
reverie, which a fairy spell dissolves or fixes at 

®pbe[ia. 13S 


But there was yet another possible modifica- 
tion of the sentiment, as combined with female 
nature; and this Shakespeare has shown to us. 
He has portrayed two beings, in whom all in- 
tellectual and moral energy is in a manner latent, 
if existing; in whom love is an unconscious im- 
pulse, and imagination lends the external charm 
and hue, not the interiial power ; in *whom the 
feminine character appears resolved into its very 
elementary principles — as modesty, grace,^^ ten- 
derness. Without these a woman is no woman, 
but a thing which, luckily, wants a name yet; 
with these, though every other faculty were pas- 
sive or deficient, she might still be herself. These 
are the inherent qualities with which God sent 
us into the world: they may be perverted by a 
bad education — they may be obscured by harsh 
and evil destinies — they may be overpowered by 
the development of some particular mental power, 
the predominance of some passion; but they are 

"By this word, as used here, I would be understood 
to mean that inexpressible something within the soul 
which tends to the good, the beautiful, the true, and is 
the antipodes to the vulgar, the violent, and the false; 
that which we see diffused externally over the form and 
movements where there is perfect innocence and un- 
consciousness, as in children. 

136 Sbaftespearc's "Iberolnes. 

never wholly crushed out of the woman s soul, 
while it retains those faculties which render it 
responsible to its Creator. Shakespeare then has 
shown us that these elemental feminine qualities, 
modesty, grace, tenderness, when expanded under 
genial influences, suffice to constitute a perfect 
and happy human creature; — such is Miranda. 
When thrown alone amid harsh and adverse des- 
tinies, and amid the trammels and corruptions of 
society, without energy to resist, or will to act, 
or strength to endure, the end must needs be deso- 

Ophelia — poor Ophelia! Oh, far too soft, too 
good, too fair, to be cast annpng the briers of this 
working-day world, and fall and bleed upon the 
thorns of life! What shall be said of her? for 
eloquence is mute before her! Like a strain of 
sad, sweet music, which comes floating by us on 
the wings of night and silence, and which we 
rather feel than hear — like the exhalation of the 
violet, dying even upon the sense it charms — like 
the snow-flake dissolved in air before it has 
caught a stain of earth — like the light surf sev- 
ered from the billow, which a breath disperses; 
— such is the character of Ophelia : so exquisitely 
delicate, it seems as if a touch would profane it; 
so sanctified in our thoughts by the last and worst 
of human woes, that we scarcely dare to consider 
it too deeply. The love of Ophelia, which she 
never once confesses, is like a secret which we 
have stolen from her, and which ought to die 
upon our hearts as upon her own. Her sorrow 
asks not words, but tears; and her madness has 

©pbelfa. 137 

precisely the same effect that would be produced 
by the spectacle of real insanity, if brought be- 
fore us: we fell inclined to turn away, and veil 
our eyes in reverential pity and too painful sym- 

Beyond every character that Shakespeare has 
drawn (Hamlet alone excepted), that of Ophelia 
makes us forget the poet in his own creation. 
Whenever we bring her to mind, it is with the 
same exclusive sense of her real existence, with- 
out reference to the wondrous power which called 
her into life. The effect (and what an effect!) 
is produced by means so simple, by strokes so 
few and so unobtrusive, that we take no thought 
of them. It is so purely natural and unsophis- 
ticated, yet so profound in its pathos, that, as 
Hazlitt observes, it takes us back to the old bal- 
lads; we forget that, in its perfect artlesstiess, 
it is the supreme and consummate triumph of 

The situation of Ophelia in the story^' is that 
of a young girl who, at an early age, is brought 
from a life of privacy into the circle of a court 
— a court such as we read of in those early times, 
at once rude, magnificent, and corrupted. She 
is placed immediately about the person of the 
queen, and is apparently her favorite attendant. 
The affection of the wicked queen for this gen- 

"i.e. in the story of the drama; for in the original 
"History of Amleth the Dane," from which Shakespeare 
drew his materials, there is a woman introduced who is 
employed as an instrument to seduce Amleth, but not 
even the germ of the character of Ophelia. 

138 SbaRespeare's fteroines. 

tie and innocent creature is one of those beauti- 
ful and redeeming touches, one of those penetrat- 
ing glances into the secret springs of natural and 
feminine feeling, which we find only in Shake- 
speare. Gertrude, who is not so wholly aban- 
doned but that there remains within her heart 
some sense of the virtue she has forfeited, seems 
to look with a kind yet melancholy complacency 
on the lovely being she has destined for the bride 
of her son; and the scene in which she is intro- 
duced as scattering flowers on the grave of Ophe- 
Ha is one of those effects of contrast in poetry, 
in character, and in feeling, at once natural and 
unexpected, which fill the eye, and make the heart 
swell and tremble within itself, like the night- 
ingales singing in the Grove of the Furies in 

Again, in the father of Ophelia, the Lord 
Chamberlain Polonius — the shrewd, wary, sub- 
tle, pompous, garrulous old courtier — have we 
not the very man who would send his son into 
the world to see all, learn all it could teach of 
good and evil, but keep his only daughter as far 
as possible from every taint of that world he 
knew so well? So that when she is brought to 
the court, she seems, in her loveliness and per- 
fect purity, like a seraph that had wandered out 
of bounds, and yet breathed on earth the air of 
Paradise. When her father and her brother find 
it necessary to warn her simplicity, give her les- 
sons of worldly wisdom, and instruct her "to. be 

" In the "CEdipus Cobneus." 

®pbelia. 139 

scanter of her maiden persence," for that Ham- 
let's vows of love "but breathe like sanctified and 
pious bonds, the better to beguile," we feel at 
once that it comes too late ; for from the moment 
she appears on the scene, amid the dark conflict 
of crime and vengeance, and supernatural terrors, 
we know what must be her destiny. Once, at 
Murano, I saw a dove caught in a tempest — per- 
haps it was young, and either lacked strength 
of wing to reach its home, or the instinct which 
teaches to shun the brooding storm, but so it was 
— and I watched it, pitying, as it flitted, poor 
bird! hither and hither, with its silver pinions 
shining against the black thunder-cloud, till, after 
a few giddy whirls, it fell, blinded, affrighted, 
and bewildered, into the turbid wave beneath, and 
was swallowed up for ever. It reminded me then 
of the fate of Ophelia; and now, when I think 
of her, I see again before me that poor dove, beat- 
ing with weary wing, bewildered amid the storm. 
It is the helplessness of Ophelia, arising merely 
from her innocence, and pictured without any in- 
dication of weakness, which melts us with such 
profound pity. She is so young, that neither her - 
mind nor her person have attained maturity : she 
is not aware of the nature of her own feelings ; 
they are prematurely developed in their full force 
before she has strength to bear them ; and love and 
grief together rend and shatter the frail texture- 
of her existence, like the burning fluid poured 
into a crystal vase. She says very little, and 
what she does say seems rather intended to hide 
than to reveal the emotions of her heart; yet in 

140 SMkesvente's Iberoinea. 

those few words we are jjiade as perfectly ac- 
quainted with her character, and with what is 
passing in her mind, as if she had thrown forth 
her soul with all the glowing eloquence of Ju- 
liet. Passion with Juliet seems innate, a part 
of her being, "as dwells the gather'd lightning 
in the cloud;" and we never fancy her but with 
the dark splendid eyes and Titian-like complex- 
ion of the south: while in Ophelia we recognize 
as distinctly the pensive, fair-haired, blue-eyed 
daughter of the north, whose heart seems to vi- 
brate to the passion she has inspired, more con- 
scious of being_Joved than,:,of _ iQiKJjjg ; and ^^ef, 
aIasT~lovingTn~TEe~sillnt depths of her young 
heart far more than she is loved. 

When her brother warns her against Hamlet's 
importunities — 

For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favour, 
Hold it a fashion, and a toy in blood, 
A violet in the youth of primy nature. 
Forward not permanent, sweet not lasting, 
The perfume and the suppliance of a minutfr— 
--^ ~^No more! — 


she repli^~witH~'a~Ein3~of half-coJracipusness, 
No more but so? ^--^^ 


Think it no more. 

He concludes his admonition— with— that most 
beautiful passage, in which the soundest sense, 
the most excellent advice, is conveyed in a strain 
of the most exquisite poetry : 

©pbelfa. 141 

The chariest maid is prodigal enough 
If she unmask her beauty to the moon.: 
Virtue itself 'scapes not calumnious strokes; 
The canker galls the infants of the spring 
Too oft before their buttons be disclosed: 
And in the morn and liquid dew of youth 
Contagious blastments are most imminent 

She answers with the same modesty, yet with 
a kind of involuntary avowal that his fears are 
not altogether without cause: 

I shall th' effect of this good lesson keep 

As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother. 

Do not, as some ungracious pastors do. 

Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven ; 

Whilst, like a puflf'd and reckless libertine. 

Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads. 

And recks not his own rede." 

When her father, immediately afterwards, 
catechizes her on the same subject, he extorts 
from her, in short sentences uttered with- bash- 
ful reluctance, the confession of Hamlet's, love 
for her, but not a word of her love for him. The 
whole scene is managed with inexpressible deli- 
cacy: it is one of those instances, common in 
Shakespeare, in which we are allowed to perceive 
what is passing in the mind of a person without 
any consciousness on their part. Only Ophelia 
herself is unaware that while she is admitting 
the extent of Hamlet's courtship, she is also be- 
traying how deep is the impression it has made, 
how entire the love with which it is returned. 

" "And recks not his own rede," i.e. heeds not his own 

142 Sbaftespeare's f>ero(ne0. 


What is between you? give me up the truth! 


He hath, njy lord, of late made many tenders 
Of his affection to me. 


Affection! puh! you spealc like a green girl. 

Unsifted in such perilous circumstance. 

Do you believe his tenders, as you call them? 


I do not know, my lord, what I should think. 


Marry, I'll teach you: think yourself a baby. 
That you have ta'en these tenders for true pay 
Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly; 
Or (not to crack the wind of the poor phrase, 
Wronging it thus) you'll tender me a fool. 

My lord, he hath importun'd me with love 
In honourable fashion. 


Ay, fashion you may call it. Go to, go to. 


And hath given countenance to his speech, my lord, 
With all the vows of heaven. 

Ay, springes to catch woodcocks. 

.... This is for all : 

I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth 

Have you so slander any moment's leisure 

As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet. 

Look to 't, I charge you : come your ways. 


I shall obey, my lord. 

Besides its intrinsic loveliness, the character 
of Ophelia has a relative beauty and delicacy, 
when considered in relation to that of Hamlet, > 
which is the delineation of a man of genius in/ 
contest with the powers cii_tbis-world.._Xhe weale^ 
ness of volition, the j|]lt3lulity__Qf__gur£0s^nie Z 
contemplative sensibility, the subtlety of" thought, 
always shrinking from action, and always occu- 
pit<A lii "thinking too precisely on the event," 
united to immense intellectual power, render him 
linspeakably interesting : and yet I doubt whether 
any woman, who would have been capable of un- 
derstanding and appreciating such a man, would 
have passionately loved him. Let us for a mo- 
ment imagine any one of Shakespeare's most 
beautiful and striking female characters in im- 
mediate connection with Hamlet. The gentle 
Desdemona would never have despatched her 
household cares in haste, to listen to his philo- 
sophical speculations, his dark conflicts with his 
own spirit. Such a woman as Portia would have 
studied him ; Juliet would have pitied him ; Rosa- 
lind would have turned him over with a smile 
to the melancholy Jaques; Beatrice would have 
laughed at him outright; Isabel would have rea- 
soned with him; Miranda could but have won- 
dered at him: but Ophelia loves him. Ophe- 
lia, the young, fair, inexperienced girl, facile to 
every impression, fond in her simplicity, and cred- 
ulous in her innocence, loves Hamlet; not from 

144 SbaRespearc'B f)ei:ofnes. 

what he is in himself, but for that which appears 
to her — the gentle, accomplished prince, upon 
whom she has been accustomed to see all eyes 
fixed in hope and admi.-ation, "the expectancy 
and rose of the fair state; ' the star of the court 
in which she moves, the first who has ever whis- 
pered soft vows in her ear : and what can be more 
natural ? 

But is it not singular, that while no one en- 
tertains a doubt of Ophelia's love for Hamlet — 
though never once expressed by herself, or as- 
serted by others, in the whole course of the dfama 
— yet it is a subject of dispute whether Hamlet 
loves Ophelia. Though she herself allows that 
he had importuned her with love, and "had given 
countenance to his suit with almost all the holy 
vows of heaven;" although in the letter which 
Polonius intercepted Hamlet declares that he 
loves her "best, O, most best !" though he asserts 
himself, with the wildest vehemence, 

I loved Ophelia; forty thousand brothers 
Could not, with all their quantity of love, 
Make up my sum: 

still I have heard the question canvassed; I have 
even heard it denied that Hamlet did love Ophe- 
lia. The author of the finest remarks I have 
yet seen on the play and character of Hamlet, 
leans to this opinion. As the observations I al- 
lude to are contained in a periodical publication, 
and may not be at hand for immediate reference, 
I shall indulge myself (and the reader no less) 
by quoting the opening paragraphs of this noble 

®pbelia. 145 

piece of criticism, upon the principle and for the 
reason I have already stated in the Introduction: 

"We take up a play, and ideas come rolling in 
upon us, like waves impelled by a strong wind. 
There is in the ebb and flow of Shakespeare's soul 
all the grandeur of a mighty operation of na- 
ture; and when we think or speak of him, it 
should be with humility where we do not under- 
stand, and a conviction that it is rather to the 
narrowness of our own mind than to any fail- 
ing in the art of the great magician that we ought 
to attribute any sense of weakness which may 
assail us during the contemplation of his created; 

"Shakespeare himself, had he even been as 
great a critic as a poet, could not have written 
a regular dissertation upon Hamlet. So ideal, 
and yet so real an existence, could have been shad- 
owed out only in the colors of poetry. When 
a character deals solely or chiefly with this world 
and its events, when it acts and is acted upon 
by objects that have a palpable existence, we see 
it distinctly, as it were cast in a material mould, 
as if it partook of the fixed and settled linea- 
ments of the things on which it lavishes its sen- 
sibilities and its passions. We see in such cases 
the vision of an individual soul, as we see 
the vision of an individual countenance. We can 
describe both, and can let a stranger into our 
knowledge. But, how tell in words so pure, so 
fine, so ideal an abstraction as Hamlet ? We can, 
indeed, figure to ourselves, generally, his princely 
form, that outshone all others in manly beauty, 

146 SbaftCBpeare's IBerofnes. 

and adorn it with the consummation of all lib- 
eral accomplishment. We can behold in every 
look, every gesture, every motion, the future king, 

The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword, 
Th' expectancy and rose of the fair state; 
The glass of fashion, and the mould of form, 
Th' observed of all observers. 

"But when we would penetrate into his spirit, 
meditate on those things on which he meditates, . 
accompany him even unto the brink of eternity, 
fluctuate with him on the ghastly sea of despair, 
soar with him into the purest and serenest re- 
gions of human thought, feel with him the curse 
of beholding iniquity, and the troubled delight 
of thinking on innocence, and gentleness, and 
beauty ; come with him from all the glorious ' 
dreams cherished by a noble spirit in the halls 
of wisdom and philosophy, of a sudden into the 
gloomy courts of sin, and incest, and murder; 
shudder with him over the broken and shattered 
fragments of all the fairest creations of his fancy ; 
be borne with him at once from calm, and lofty, 
and delighted speculations, into the very heart 
of fear, and horror, and tribulations; have the. 
agonies and the guilt of our mortal world brought 
into immediate contact with the world beyond the 
grave, and the influence of an awful shadow' 
hanging for ever on our thoughts ; be present at 
a fearful combat between all the stirred-up pas- 
sions of humanity in the soul of man, a combat 
in which one and all of these passions are alter- 
nately victorious and overcome; — I say, that 

©pbelta. 147 

when we are thus placed and acted upon, how 
is it possible to draw a character of this sub- 
lime drama, or of the mysterious being who is 
its moving spirit ? In him, his character and sit- 
uation, there is a concentration of all the inter- 
ests that belong to humanity. There is scarcely 
a trait of frailty or of grandeur, which may have 
endeared to us our most beloved friends in real 
life, that is not to be found in Hamlet. Un- 
doubtedly Shakespeare loved him beyond all his 
other creations. Soon as he appears on the stage 
we are satisfied: when absent we long for his 
return. This is the only play which exists al- 
most altogether in the character of one single 
person. Who ever knew a Hamlet in real life? 
yet who, ideal as the character is, feels not its 
reality ? This is the wonder. We love him, not, 
we think of him, not because he is witty, because 
he was melancholy, because he was filial ; but we 
love him because he existed, and was himself. 
This is the sum total of the impression. I believe 
that, of every other character, either in tragic 
or epic poetry, the story makes part of the con- 
ception; but of Hamlet, the deep and permanent 
interest is the conception of himself. This seems 
to belong, not to the character being more per- 
fectly drawn, but to there being a more intense 
conception of individual human life than per- 
haps any other human composition. Here is a 
being with springs of thought, and feeling, and 
action, deeper than we can search. These springs 
rise from an unknown depth, and in that depth 
there seems to be a oneness of being which we 

148 SbaRespeare'6 Iberotnes. 

cannot distinctly behold, but which we believe 
to be there; and thus irreconcilable circum- 
stances, floating on the surface of his actions, 
have not the effect of making us doubt the truth 
of the general picture." 

This is all most admirable, most eloquent, 
most true; but the critic subsequently declares, 
that "there is nothing in Ophelia which could 
make her the object of an engrossing passion to 
so majestic a spirit t-s Hamlet." 

Now, though it be with reluctance, and even 
considerable mistrust of myself, that I differ from 
a critic who can thus feel and write, I do not 
think so: — I do think, with submission, that the 
love of Hamlet for Ophelia is deep, is real, and 
is precisely the kind of love which such a man 
as Hamlet would feel for such a woman as Ophe- 

When the heathens would represent their Jove 
as clothed in all his Olympian terrors, they 
mounted him on the back of an eagle, and armed 
him with the lightnings ; but when in Holy Writ 
the Supreme Being is described as coming in His 
glory, He is upborne on the wings of cherubim, 
and His emblem is the dove. Even so our blessed 
religion, which has revealed deeper mysteries in 
the human soul than ever were dreamt of by phi- 
losophy, till she went hand-in-hand with faith, 
has taught us to pay that worship to the symbols 
of purity and innocence which in darker times 
was paid to the manifestations of power: and, 
therefore, do I think that the mighty intellect, the 
capacious, soaring, penetrating genius of Hamlet 

©pbclfa. 149 

may be represented, without detracting from its 
grandeur, as reposing upon the tender virgin in- 
nocence of Ophelia, with all that deep delight 
with which a superior nature contemplates the 
goodness which is at once perfect in itself, and 
of itself unconscious. That Hamlet regards 
Ophelia with this kind of tenderness — that he 
loves her with a love as intense as can belong 
to a nature in which there is (I think) much 
more of contemplation and sensibility than ac- 
tion or passion — is the feeling and conviction with 
which I have always read the play of "Hamlet." 
As to whether the mind of Hamlet be, or be 
not, touched with madness — this is another point 
at issue among critics, philosophers, aye, and 
physicians. To me it seems that he is not so far 
disordered as to cease to be a responsible human 
being — ^that were too pitiable: but rather that 
his mind is shaken from its equilibrium and be- 
wildered by the horrors of his situation — horrors 
which his fine and subtle intellect, his strong 
imagination, and his tendency to melancholy, at 
once exaggerate, and take from him the power 
either to endure, or, "by opposing, end them." 
We do not see him as a lover, nor as. Ophelia 
first beheld him ; for the days when he impor- 
tuned her with love were before the opening of 
the drama — before his father's spirit revisited 
the earth; but we behold him at once in a sea 
of troubles', of perplexities, of agonies, of ter- 
rors. Without remorse he endures all its hor- 
rors ; without guilt he endures all its shame. A 
loathing of the crime he is called on to revenge. 

150 Sbaftespeate's "betofnea. 

which revenge is again abhorrent to his nature, 
has set him at strife with himself; the supernat- 
ural visitation has perturbed his soul to its in- 
most depths ; all things else, all interests, all 
hopes, all affections, appear as futile, when the 
majestic shadow comes lamenting from its place 
of torment "to shake him with thoughts beyond 
the reaches of his soul!" His love for Ophelia 
is then ranked by himself among those trivial, 
fond records which he has deeply sworn to erase 
from his heart and brain. He has no thought 
to link his terrible destiny with hers: he can- 
not marry her: he cannot reveal to her, young, 
gentle, innocent as she is, the terrific influences' 
which have changed the whole current of his 
life and purposes. In his distraction he over- 
acts the painful part to which he had tasked him- 
self ; he is like that judge of the Areopagus, who, 
being occupied with graver matters, flung from 
him the little bird which had sought refuge in 
his bosom, and that with such angry violence, 
that unwittingly he killed it. 

In the scene with Hamlet,^^ in which he madly 
outrages her and upbraids himself, Ophelia says 
very little : there are two short sentences in which 
she replies to his wild, abrupt discourse — 


I did love you once. 


Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so. 
"Act iii. scene I. 

©pbclla. 151 


You should not have believed me: for virtue cannot 
so inoculate our old stock, but we shall relish of it I 
loved you not. 


I was the more deceived. 

Those who ever heard Mrs. Siddons read the 
play of Hamlet cannot forget the world of mean- 
ing, of love, of sorrow, of despair, conveyed in 
these two simple phrases. Here, and in the so- 
liloquy afterwards, where she says, 

And I of ladies most deject and wretched, 
That suck'd the honey of his music vows, 

are the only allusions to herself and her own 
feelings in the course of the play ; and these, ut- 
tered almost without consciousness on her own 
part, contain the revelation of a life of love, and 
disclose the secret burthen of a heart bursting 
with its own unuttered grief. She believes Ham- 
let crazed; she is repulsed, she is forsaken, she 
is outraged, where she had bestowed her young 
heart,, with all its hopes and wishes; her father 
is slain by the hand of her lover, as it is sup- 
posed, in a paroxysm of insanity: she is entan- 
gled inextricably in a web of horrors whicl^ she 
cannot even comprehend, and the result seems 

Of her subsequent madness, what can be said ? 
What an affecting, what an astonishing picture 
of a mind utterly, hopelessly wrecked! — past 

152 Sbalsespeate's Iberoinea. 

hope — past cure ! There is the frenzy of excited 
passion — there is the madness caused by intense 
and continued thought — there is the delirium of 
fevered nerves; but Ophelia's madness is distinct 
from these: it is not the suspension, but the ut- 
ter destruction of the reasoning powers; it is 
the total imbecility vi^hich, as medical peopl'e well 
know, frequently follows some terrible shock to 
the spirits. Constance is frantic; Lear is mad; 
Ophelia is insane. Her sweet mind lies in frag- 
ments before us — a pitiful spectacle! Her wild, 
rambling fancies; her aimless, broken speeches; 
her quick transitions from gaiety to sadness-:r. 
each equally purposeless and causeless; her 
snatches of old ballads, such as perhaps her nurse 
sang her to sleep with in her infancy — are all 
so true to the life that we forget to wonder, and 
can only weep. It belonged to Shakespeare alone 
so to temper such a picture that we can endure 
to dwell upon it — 

Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself, 
She turns to favour and to prettiness. 

That in her madness she should exchange her 
bashful silence for empty babbling, her sweet 
maidenly demeanor for the impatient restless- 
ness that spurns at straws, and say and^ sing^ pre- 
cisely what she~ neTer— would or could have ut-~ 
tered had she been in possession of her reason, 
V, is so far from being an impropriety, that it is 
\p additional stroke of nature. It is one of the 
symptoms in this species of insanity, as we are 
assured by physicians. I have myself known one 

©pbcKa. 153 

instance in the case of a young Quaker girl, 
whose character resembled that of Ophelia, and 
whose malady arose from a similar cause. 

The whole action of this play sweeps 
past us like a torrent which hurries along in its 
dark and resistless course all the personages' of 
the drama towards a catastrophe which is not 
brought about by human will, but seems like an 
abyss ready dug to receive them, where the good 
and the wicked are whelmed together.^" As the 
character of Hamlet has been compared, or rather 
contrasted, with the Greek Orestes, being, like 
him, called on ta ayenge a crime by a crime, tor- 
mented iby remorseful doubts, and pursued by 
distraction, so, to me, the character of Ophelia 
bears a certain relation to that of the Greek Iphi- 
genia,"^ with the same strong distinction between 
the classical and the romantic conception of the 
portrait. Iphigenia led forth to sacrifice, with 
her unresisting tenderness, her mournful sweet- 
ness, her virgin innocence, is doomed to perish 
by that relentless power which has linked her 
destiny with crimes and contests, in which she 
has no part but as a sufferer; and even so poor 
Ophelia, "divided from herself and her fair judg- 
ment," appears here like a spotless victim offered 
up to the mysterious and inexorable Fates. 

"For it is the property of crime to extend its 
mischiefs over innocence, as it is of virtue to 

" Goethe. See the analysis of "Hamlet" in "Wilhelm 
^ The "Iphigenia in Aulis" of Euripides, 

154 SbaRespcarc's Ibcrotncs. 

extend its blessings over many that deserve them 
not, while frequently the author of one or the 
other is not, as far as we can see, either pun- 
ished or rewarded."^^ But there's a heaven above 

' Goethe. 

Jbicattda* 155 


We might have deemed it impossible to go be- 
. yond Viola, Perdita, and Ophelia, as pictures of 
feminine beauty — to exceed the one in tender 
delicacy, the other in ideal grace, and the last in 
simplicity — if Shakespeare had not done this; 
and he alone could have done it. Had he never 
created a Miranda, we should never have been 
made to feel how completely the purely natural 
and the purely ideal can blend into each other. 

The character of Miranda resolves itself into 
the very elements of womanhood. She is beau- 
tiful, modest, and tender, and she is these only; 
they comprise her whole being, external and in- 
ternal. She is so perfectly unsophisticated, so 
delicately refined, that she is all but ethereal. Let 
us imagine any other woman placed beside Miran- 
da — even one of Shakespeare's own loveliest and 
sweetest creations — there is not one of them that 
could sustain the comparison for a moment; not 
one that would not appear somewhat coarse or 
artificial when brought into immediate contact 
with this pure child of nature, this "Eve of an 
enchanted Paradise," 

155 Sbafte0peat6'6 Iberofneg. 

What, then, has Shakespeare done? — "O won- 
drous skill and sweet wit of the man!" — he has 
removed Miranda far from all comparison with 
her own sex ; he has placed her between the demi- 
demon of earth and the delicate spirit of air. 
The next step is into the ideal and supernatural ; 
and the only being who approaches Miranda, with 
whom she can be contrasted, is Ariel. Beside 
the subtile essence of this ethereal sprite, this 
creature of elemental light and air, that "ran upon 
the winds, rode the curl'd clouds, and in the col- 
ors of the rainbow lived," Miranda herself ap- 
pears a palpable reality, a woman, "breathing 
thoughtful breath," a woman, walking the earth 
in her mortal loveliness, with a heart as frail- 
strung, as passion-touched, as ever fluttered in 
a female bosom. 

I have said that Miranda possesses merely the 
elementary attributes of womanhood; but each 
of these stand in her with a distinct and peculiar 
grace. She resembles nothing upon earth: but 
do we therefore compare her, in our own minds, 
with any of these fabled beings with which the 
fancy of ancient poets peopled the forest depths, 
the fountain, or the ocean ? — oread or dryad fleet, 
sea-maid or naiad of the stream? We cannot 
think of them together. Miranda is a consistent, - 
natural, human being. Our impression of her 
nymph-like beauty, her peerless grace and purity 
of soul, has a distinct and individual character.. 
Not only is she exquisitely lovely, being what she 
is, liut we are made to feel that she could not 
possibly be otherwise than as she is portrayed. 

yasftanda. 157 

She has never beheld one of her own sex; she 
has never caught from society one imitated or 
artificial grace. The impulses which have come 
to her, in her enchanted solitude, are of heaven 
and nature, not of the world and its vanities. She 
has sprung up into beauty beneath the eye of her 
father, the princely magician; her companions 
have been the rocks and woods, the many-shaped, 
many-tinted clouds, and the silent stars; her 
playmates the ocean billows, that stooped their 
foamy crests and ran rippling to kiss her feet. 
Ariel and his attendant sprites hovered over her 
head, ministered duteous to her every wish, and 
presented before her pageants of beauty and gran- 
deur. The very air, made vocal by her father's 
art, floated in music around her. If we can pre- 
suppose such a situation with all its circum- 
stances, do we not behold in the character of 
Miranda not only the credible, but the natural, 
the necessary results of such a situation? She 
retains her woman's heart, for that is unalter- 
able and inalienable, as a part of her being; but 
her deportment, her looks, her language, her. 
thoughts — all these, from the supernatural and 
poetical circumstances around her, assume a cast 
of the pure ideal ; and to us, who are in the secret 
of her human and pitying nature, nothing can 
be more charming and consistent than the effect 
which she produces upon others, who never hav- 
ing beheld anything resembling her, approach 
her as "a wonder," as something celestial : 

Be sure ! the goddess on whom these airs attend ! 

158 Sbaftcspeate'0 iDerofneg. 

And again — 

What is this maid? 
Is she the goddess who hath sever'd us. 
And brought us thus together? 

And Ferdinand exclaims, while gazing on her, 

My spirits as in a dream are all bound up ! 
My father's loss, the weakness which I feel, 
The wreck of all my friends, or this man's threats, 
To whom I am subdued, are but light to me, 
Might I but through my prison once a day 
Behold this maid : all corners else o' the earth 
Let liberty make use of, space enough 
Have I in such a prison. 

Contrasted with the impression of her refined 
and dignified beauty, and its effect on all behold- 
ers, is Miranda's own soft simplicity, her vir- 
gin innocence, her total ignorance of the conven- 
tional forms and language of society. It is most 
natural that, in a being thus constituted, the first 
tears should spring from compassion, "suffering 
with those that she saw suffer" — 

O the cry did knock 
Against my very heart. Poor souls ! they perish'd. 
Had I been any god of power, I would 
Have sunk the sea within the earth, or e'er 
It should the good ship so have swallow'd. 
And the freighting souls within her ; 

and that her first sigh should be offered to a 
love at once fearless and submissive, delicate and 
fond. She has no taught scruples of honor like 
Juliet; no coy concealments like Viola; no as- 
sumed dignity standing in its own defence. Her 
bashfulness is less a quality an instinct; it 

^Iran6a. 159 

is like the self-folding of a flower, spontaneous 
and unconscious. I suppose there is nothing of 
the kind in poetry equal to the scene between Fer- 
dinand and Miranda. In Ferdinand, who is a 
noble creature, we have all the chivalrous mag- 
nanimity with which man, in a high state of 
civilization, disguises his real superiority, and 
does humble homage to the being of whose des- 
tiny he disposes; while Miranda, the mere child 
of nature, is struck with wonder at her own new 
emotions. Only conscious of her own weakness 
as a woman, and ignorant of those usages of so- 
ciety which teach us to dissemble the real passion, 
and assume (and sometimes abuse) an unreal and 
transient power, she is equally ready to place her 
life, her love, her service beneath his feet. 


Alas, now ! I pray you, 
Work not so hard. I would the lightning had 
Burnt up those logs that you are enjoin'd to pile! 
Pray set it down and rest you. When this burns, 
'Twill weep for having wearied you. My father 
Is hard at study; pray now, rest yourself: 
He's safe for these three hours. 


O most dear mistress. 
The sun will set before I shall discharge 
What I must strive to do. 


If you'll sit down, 
I'll bear your logs the while. Pray give me that, 
I'll carry it to the pile. 

160 Sbafteapcare'g Iberolncs. 


No, precious creature; 
I'd rather crack my sinews, break my back, 
Than you should such dishonour undergo 
While I sit lazy by. 


It would become me. 
As well as it does you; and I should do it 
With much more ease ; for my good will is to it 
And yours it is against. 


You look wearily. 


No, noble mistress; 'tis fresh morning with me 
When you are by at night. I do beseech you 
(Chiefly that I might set it in my prayers). 
What is your name? 


Miranda. — O my father, 
I have broke your best to say so ! 


Admir'd Miranda! 
Indeed, the top of admiration : worth 
What's dearest in the world! Full many a lady 
I have ey'd with best regard : and many a time 
The harmony of their tongues hath into bondage 
Brought my too diligent ear. For several virtues 
Have I lik'd several women; never any 
With so full soul, but some defect in her 
Did quarrel with the noblest grace she ow'd 
And put it to the foil. But you, O you. 
So perfect and so peerless, are created 
Of every creature's best! 

Atcanda. 161 


I do not know 
One of my sex ; no woman's face remember. 
Save, from my_glass, mine own; nor have I seen 
More that I may call men, than you, good friend. 
And my dear father. How features are abroad 
I am skill-less of; but, by my modesty 
(The jewel in my dower), I would not wish 
Any companion in the world but you; 
Nor can imagination form a shape. 
Besides yourself, to like of. But I prattle 
Something too wildly, and my father's precepts 
I therein do forget. 


I am, in my condition, 
A prince, Miranda; I do think, a king: 
(I would not so!) and would no more endure 
This wooden slavery, than to suffer 
The flesh-fly blow my mouth. Hear my soul speak : 
The very instant that I saw you, did 
My heart fly to your service; there resides. 
To make me slave to it: and, for your sake, 
Am I this patient log-man. 


Do you love me? 


O heaven ! O earth ! bear witness to this sound, 
And crown what I profess with kind event, 
If I speak true : if hollowly, invert 
What best is boded me to mischief! I 
Beyond all limit of what else i' the world. 
Do love, prize, honour you. 


I am a fool. 
To weep at what I am glad of. 

162 Sbalieapeare's 'E>erofnes. 


Wherefore weep you ? 


At mine unworthiness, that dare not offer 

What I desire to give; and much less take 

What I shall die to want. But this is trifling: 

And all the more it seeks to hide itself, 

The bigger bulk it shows. Hence, bashful cunning! 

And prompt me, plain and holy innocence! 

I am your wife, if you will marry me; 

If not, I'll die your maid. To be your fellow 

You may deny me; but Til be your servant 

Whether you will or no ! 


My mistress, dearest I 
And I thus humble ever. 


My husband, then? 


Ay, with a heart as willing. 

As bondage e'er of freedom. Here's my hand. 


And mine with my heart in 't And 'now farewell 
Till half an hour hence. 

As Miranda, being what she is, could only 
have had a Ferdinand for her lover, and an Ariel 
for an attendant, so she could have had with pro- 
priety no other father than the majestic and 
gifted being who fondly claims her as "a thread 
of his own life — nay, that for which he lives." 
Prospero, with his magical powers, his super- 
human wisdom, his moral worth and grandeur. 

flblranOa. 163 

and his kingly dignity, is one of the most sub- 
lime visions that ever swept with ample robes, 
pale brow, and sceptred hand before the eye of 
fancy. He controls the invisible world, and works 
through the agency of spirits; not by any evil 
and forbidden compact, but solely by superior 
might of intellect — by potent spells gathered 
from the lore of ages, and abjured when he min- 
gles again as a man with his fellow-men. He is 
as distinct a being from the necromancers and 
astrologers celebrated in Shakespeare's age as can 
well be imagined :^^ and all the wizards of poetry 
and fiction, even Faust and St. Leon, sink into 
commonplaces before the princely, the philo- 
sophic, the benevolent Prosper©. 

The Bermuda Isles, in which Shakespeare has 
placed the scene of the "Tempest," were discov- 
ered in his time: Sir George Somers and his 
companions having been wrecked there in a ter- 
rible storm,^* brought back a most fearful account 
of those unknown islands, which they described 
as "a land of devils — a most prodigious and en- 
chanted place, subject to continual tempests and 
supernatural visitings." Such was the idea en- 
tertained of the "still-vext Bermoothes" in Shake- 
speare's age: but later travellers describe them 
as perfect regions of enchantment in a far dif- 

" Such as Cornelius Agrippa, Michael Scott, Dr. Dee. 
The last was the contemporary of Shakespeare. 

" In 1609, about three years before Shakespeare pro- 
duced the "Tempest," which, though placed first in all 
the editions of his works, was one of the last of his 

164 Sbafteepeare's "Cerofnes. 

ferent sense; as so many fairy Edens, clustered 
like a knot of gems upon the bosom of the At- 
lantic, decked out in all the lavish luxuriance 
of nature, with shades of myrtle and cedar, 
fringed round with groves of coral ; in short, each 
island a tiny paradise rich with perpetual blos- 
soms in which Ariel might have slumbered, and 
ever-verdant bowers in which Ferdinand and 
Miranda might have strayed: so that Shake- 
speare, in blending the wild relations of the ship- 
wrecked mariners with his own inspired fancies, 
has produced nothing, however lovely in nature 
and sublime in magical power, which does not 
harmonize with the beautiful and wondrous 

There is another circumstance connected with 
the "Tempest," which is rather interesting. It 
was produced and acted for the first time upon 
the occasion of the nuptials of the Princess Eliza- 
beth, the eldest daughter of James I., with Fred- 
eric, the elector palatine. It is hardly necessary 
to remind the reader of the fate of this amiable 
but most unhappy woman, whose life, almost 
from the period of her marriage, was one long 

tempestuous scene of trouble and adversity. 

The characters which I have here classed to- 
gether, as principally distinguished by the pre- 
dominance of passion and fancy, appear to me to 
rise, in the scale of ideality and simplicity, from 
Juliet to Miranda; the last being in comparison 
so refined, so elevated above all stain of earth, 
that we can only acknowledge her in connection 

ilbiranda. 165 

with it through the emotions of sympathy she 
feels and inspires. 

I remember, when I was in Italy, standing "at 
evening on the top of Fesole," and at my feet 
I beheld the city of Florence and the Val d'Arno, 
with its villas, its luxuriant gardens, groves, 
and olive-grounds, all bathed in crimson light. 
A transparent vapor or exhalation, which in its 
tint was almost as rich as the pomegranate 

. flower, moving with soft undulation, rolled 
through the valley, and the very earth seemed 

.to pant with warm life beneath its rosy veil. A 
dark purple shade, the forerunner of night, was 

■already stealing over the east; in the western 
sky still lingered the blaze of the sunset, while 
the faint perfume of trees and flowers, and now 
and then a strain of music wafted upwards, com- 
pleted the intoxication of the senses. But I 
looked from the earth to the sky, and immediately 
above this scene hung the soft crescent moon — 
alone, with all the bright heaven to herself: and 
as that sweet moon to the glowing landscape be- 
neath it, such is the character of Miranda com- 
pared to that of Juliet. 

166 Sbafteepeate's f^ecoinee. 



Characters in which the affections and the 
moral qualities predominate over fancy and all 
that bears the name of passion are not, when we 
meet with them in real life, the most striking 
and interesting, nor the easiest to be understood 
and appreciated; but they are those on which, in 
the long run, we repose with increasing con- 
fidence and ever-new delight. Such characters 
are not easily exhibited in the colors of poetry, 
and when we meet with them there, we are re- 
minded of the effect of Raffaelle's picture. Sir 
Joshua Reynolds assures us that it took him three 
weeks to discover the beauty of the frescoes in 
the Vatican; and many, if they spoke trutli, 
would prefer one of Titian's or Murillo's Vir- 
gins to one of Raffaelle's heavenly Madonnas. 
The less there is of marked expression or vivid 
color in a countenance or character, the more dif- 
ficult to delineate it in such a manner as to cap- 
tivate and interest us : but when this is done, and 
done to perfection, it is the miracle of poetry in 
painting, and of painting in poetry. Only Raf- 

Metmfone. 167 

faelle and Correggio have achieved it in one case, 
and only Shakespeare in the other. 

When, by the presence or the agency of some 
predominant and exciting power, the feelings and 
affections are upturned from the depths of the 
heart and flung to the surface, the painter or 
the poet has but to watch the workings of the 
passions, thus in a manner made visible, and 
transfer them to his page or his canvas in col- 
ors more or less vigorous: but where all is calm 
without and around, to dive into the profound- 
est abysses of character, trace the affections 
where they lie hidden like the ocean springs, wind 
into the most intricate involutions of the heart, 
patiently unravel its most delicate fibres, and in 
a few graceful touches place before us the dis- 
tinct and visible result, — to do this demanded 
power of another and a rarer kind. 

There are several of Shakespeare's characters 
which are especially distinguished by this pro- 
found feeling in the conception, and subdued har- 
mony of tone in the delineation. To them may be 
particularly applied the ingenious simile which 
Goethe has used to illustrate generally all Shake- 
speare's characters when he compares them to the 
old-fashioned watches in glass cases, which not 
only showed the index pointing to the hour, but 
the wheels and springs within which set that in- 
dex in motion. 

Imogen, Desdemona, and Hermione are three 
women placed in situations nearly similar, and 
equally endowed with all the qualities which 
can render that situation striking and interest- 

168 Sbaftespeate'0 Iberoincs. 

ing. They are all gentle, beautiful, and inno- 
cent; all are models of conjugal submission, 
truth, and tenderness; and all are victims 6i the 
unfounded jealousy of their husbands. So far 
the parallel is close, but' here the reserr(tlance 
ceases; the circumstances of each situaticjn are 
varied with wonderful skill, and the char^icters, 
which are as different as it is possible to in^agine, 
conceived and discriminated with a power of 
truth and a delicacy of feeling yet more aston- 

Critically speaking the character of Hermione 
is the most simple in point of dramatic effect; 
that of Imogen is the most varied and complex. 
Hermione is most distinguished by her magna- 
nimity and her fortitude, Desdemona by her 
gentleness and refined grace, while Imogen com- 
bines all the best qualities of both, with others 
which they do not possess: consequently she is, 
as a character, superior to either; but considered 
as women, I suppose the preference would de- 
pend on individual taste. 

Hermione is the heroine of the three first acts 
of the Winter's Tale. She is the wife of Leon- 
tes, king of Sicilia, and though in the prime of 
beauty and womanhood, is not represented in the 
first bloom of youth. Her husband on slight 
grounds suspects her of infidelity with his friend 
Polixenes, king of Bohemia: the suspicion once 
admitted, and working on a jealous, passionate, 
and vindictive mind, becomes a settled and con- 
firmed opinion. Hermione is thrown into a dun- 
geon; her new-born infant is taken from her. 

«ettiUonc. 169 

and, by the order of her husband, frantic with 
jealousy, exposed to death on a desert shore; 
she is herself brought to a public trial for treason 
and incontinency, defends herself nobly, and is 
pronounced innocent by the oracle. But at the 
very moment that she is acquitted, she learns of 
the death of the prince her son, who 

Conceiving the dishonour of his mother, 
Had straight declined, droop'd, took it deeply, 
Fasten'd and fix'd the shame on 't in himself. 
Threw off his spirit, appetite, and sleep. 
And downright languish'd. 

She swoons away with grief, and her supposed 
death concludes the third act. The two last acts 
are occupied with the adventures of her daugh- 
ter Perdita ; and with the restoration of Perdita 
to the arms of her mother, and the reconciliation 
of Hermione and Leontes, the piece concludes. 

Such, in few words, is the dramatic situation. 
The character of Hermione exhibits what is never 
found in the other sex, but rarely in our own 
— ^yet sometimes; — dignity without pride, love 
without passion, and tenderness without weak- 
ness. To conceive a character in which there 
enters so much of the negative, required perhaps 
no rare and astonishing effort of genius, such as 
created a Juliet, a Miranda, or a Lady Macbeth : 
but to delineate such a character in the poetical 
form, to develop it through the medium of ac- 
tion and dialogue, without the aid of description ; 
to preserve its tranquil, mild, and serious beauty, 
its unimpassioned dignity, and at the same time 

170 SbaReepearc's Iberofnes. 

keep the strongest hold upon our sympathy |' and 
our imagination; and out of this exterior calm 
produce the most profound pathos, the most Mvid 
impression of life and internal power: — it is this 
which renders the character of Hermione one of 
Shakespeare's masterpieces. 

Hermione is a queen, a matron, and a mother; 
she is good and beautiful, and royally descended. 
A majestic sweetness, a grand and gracious sim- 
plicity, an easy, unforced, yet dignified self-pos- 
session, are in all her deportment and in every 
word she utters. She is one of those characters 
of whom it has been said proverbially that "still 
waters run deep." Her passions are not vehe- 
ment, but in her settled mind the sources of pain 
or pleasure, love or resentment, are like the 
springs that feed the mountain lakes, impenetra- 
ble, unfathomable, and inexhaustible. 

Shakespeare has conveyed (as is his custom) 
a part of the character of Hermione in scattered 
touches, and through the impressions which she 
produces on all around her. Her surpassing 
beauty is alluded to in few but strong terms : — > 

This jealousy 
Is for a precious creature: as she's rare, 
Must it be great. 

Praise her but for this her without-door form 
(Which, on my faith, deserves high speech). 

If one by one you wedded all the world, 
Or from the all that are took something good 
To make a perfect woman, she you kill'd 
Would be unparallel'd. 

Wermfonc. 171 

I might have look'd upon my queen's full eyes, 
Have taken treasure from her lips, 
.... and left them 
More rich for what they yielded. 

The expressions "most sacred lady," "dread 
mistress," "sovereign," with which she is ad- 
dressed or alluded to, the boundless devotion and 
respect of those around her, and their confidence 
in her goodness and innocence, are so many ad- 
ditional strokes in the portrait. 

For her, my lord, 
I dare my life lay down, and will do 't, sir. 
Please you 't accept it, that the queen is spotless 
I' the eyes of heaven, and to you. 

Every inch of woman in the world 

Ay, every dram of woman's flesh is false. 

If she be. 

I would not be a stander-by to hear 
My sovereign mistress clouded so, without 
My present vengeance taken? 

The mixture of playful courtesy, queenly dig- 
nity, and lady-like sweetness, with which she pre- . 
vails on Polixenes to prolong his visit, is charns- 


You'll stay? 


No, madam. 


Nay, but you will. 

J72 Sbaftespeare's iberoineg. 


I may not, verily. 


You put me off with limber vows ; but I, 
Tho' you would seek t' unsphere the stafs with oaths. 
Should still say, "Sir, no going!" Verily, 
You shall not go ! A lady's verily is 
As potent as a lord's. Will you go yet? 
Force me to keep you as a prisoner. 
Not like a guest? 

And though the situation of Hermione admits 
but of few general reflections, one little speech, 
inimitably beautiful and characteristic, has be- 
come almost proverbial from its truth. She says : 

One good deed, dying tongueless. 
Slaughters a thousand, waiting upon that. 
Our praises are our wages; you may ride us 
With one soft kiss a thousand furlongs, ere 
With spur we heat an acre. 

She receives the first intimation of her hus- 
band's jealous suspicions with incredulous aston- 
ishment. It is not that, like Desdemona, she 
does not or cannot understand; but she will not. 
When he accuses her more plainly, she replies 
with a calm dignity : 

Should a villain say so— 
The most replenish'd villain in the world — 
He were as much more villain; you, my lord. 
Do but mistake. 

This characteristic composure of temper never 

Wermtone. 173 

forsakes her; and yet it is so delineated that the 
impression is that of grandeur, and never bor- 
ders upon pride or coldness: it is the fortitude 
. of a gentle but a strong mind, conscious of its 
own innocence. Nothing can be more affecting 
than her calm reply to Leontes, who, in his jeal- 
ous rage, heaps insult upon insult, and accuses 
her. before her own attendants as no better "than 
one of those to whom the vulgar give bold titles." 

How will this grieve you 
When you shall come to clearer knowledge, that 
You have thus publish'd me ! Gentle my lord. 
You scarce can right me thoroughly then, to say 
You did mistake 

Her mild dignity and saint-like patience, com- 
bined as they are with the strongest sense of the 
cruel injustice of her husband, thrill us with ad- 
miration as well as pity; and we cannot but see 
and feel, that for Hermione to give way to tears 
and feminine complaints under such a blow would 
be quite incompatible with the character. Thus 
she says of herself, as she is led to prison : 

There's some ill planet reigns: 
I must be patient till the heavens look 
With an aspect more favourable. Good my lords, 
I am not prone to weeping, as our sex 
Commonly are; the want of which vain dew 
Perchance shall dry your pities : but I have 
That honourable grief lodged here that burns 
Worse than tears drown. Beseech you all, my lords. 
With thoughts so qualified as your charities 
Shall best instruct you, measure me; and so 
The king's will be performed. 

174 Sbaftespearc's IBeroines. 

When she is brought to trial for supposed 
crimes, called on to defend herself, "standing 
to prate and talk for life and honor before who 
please to come and hear," the sense of her igno- 
minious situation — all its shame and all its hor- 
ror press upon her, and would apparently crush 
even her magnanimous spirit, but for the con- 
sciousness of her own worth and innocence, and 
the necessity that exists for asserting and de- 
fending both. 

If powers divine 
Behold our human action (as they do), 
I doubt not, then, but innocence shall make 
False accusation blush, and tyranny 
Tremble at patience. 
***** *** 

For life, I prize it 
As I weigh grief, which I would spare. For honour 
'Tis a derivative from me to mine, 
And only that I stand for. 

Her earnest, eloquent justification of herself, 
and her lofty sense of female honor, are ren- 
dered more affecting and impressive by that chill- 
ing despair, that contempt for a life which has 
been made bitter to her through unkindness, 
which is betrayed in every word of her speech, 
though so calmly characteristic. When she enu- 
merates the unmerited insults which have been 
heaped upon her, it is without asperity or re- 
proach, yet in a tone which shows how completely 
the iron has entered her soul. Thus when Leon- 
tes threatens her with death : — 

Mcrmlone. 175 

Sir, spare your threats : 
The bug which you would fright me with I seek. 
To me can life be no commodity; 
The crown and comfort of my life, your favour, 
I do give lost; for I do feel it gone, 
But know not how it went. My second joy, 
The first-fruits of my body, from his presence 
I am barr'd, like one infectious. My third comfort^ 
Starr'd most unluckily! — is from my breast. 
The innocent milk in its most innocent mouth, 
Haled out to murder. Myself on every post 
Proclaimed a strumpet; with immodest hatred. 
The child-bed privilege denied, which 'longs 
To women of all fashion. -Lastly, hurried 
Here to this place, i' the open air, before 
I have got strength of limit. Now, my liege. 
Tell me what blessings I have here alive 
That I should fear to die. Therefore, proceed: 
But yet hear this : mistake me not. No ! life, 
I prize it not a straw : but for mine honour 
(Which I would free), if I shall be condemn'd 
Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else 
But what your jealousies awake, I tell you 
'Tis rigour and not law. 

The character of Hermione is considered open 
to criticism on one point. I have heard it re- 
marked, that when she secludes herself from the 
world for sixteen years, during which time she 
is mourned as dead by her repentant husband, 
and is not won to relent from her resolve by his 
sorrow, his remorse, his constancy to her mem- 
ory: such conduct, argues the critic, is unfeeling 
as it is inconceivable in a tender and virtuous 
woman. Would Imogen have done so, who is 
so generously ready to grant a pardon before it 
be asked? or Desdemona, who does not forgive 

176 Sbakespeare's "bctoinea. 

because she cannot even resent? No, assuredly; 
but this is only another proof of the wonderful 
delicacy and consistency with which Shakespeare 
has discriminated the characters of all three. The 
incident of Hermione's supposed death and con- 
cealment for sixteen years is not indeed very 
probable in itself, nor very likely to occur in 
every-day life. But, besides all the probability nec- 
essary for the purposes of poetry, it has all the 
likelihood it can derive from the peculiar character 
of Hermione, who is precisely the woman who 
could and would have acted in this maimer. In 
such a mind as hers, the sense of cruel injury, 
inflicted by one she had loved and trusted, with- 
out awakening any violent anger or any desire 
of vengeance, would sink deep — almost incur- 
ably and lastingly deep. So far she is most un- 
like either Imogen or Desdemona, who are por- 
trayed as much more flexible in temper ; but then 
the circumstances under which she is wronged 
are very diflFerent, and far more unpardonable. 
The self-created, frantic jealousy of Leontes is 
very distinct from that of Othello, writhing un- 
der the arts of lago; or that of Posthumus, whose 
understanding has been cheated by the most 
damning evidence of his wife's infidelity. The 
jealousy which in Othello and Posthumus is an 
error of judgment, in Leontes is a vice of the 
blood ; he suspects without cause, condemns with- 
out proof ; he is without excuse — unless the mix- 
ture of pride, passion, and imagination, and the 
predisposition to jealousy, with which Shake- 
speare has portrayed him, be considered as an ex- 

Itermfone. 177 

cuse. Hermione has been openly insulted: he 
to whom she gave herself, her heart, her soul, 
has stooped to the weakness and baseness of sus- 
picion; has doubted her truth; has wronged her 
love; has sunk in her esteem and forfeited her 
confidence. She has been branded with vile 
names; her son, her eldest hope, is dead — dead 
through the false accusation which has stuck in- 
famy on his mother's name; and her innocent 
babe, stained with illegitimacy, disowned and re- 
jected, has been exposed to a cruel death. Can 
we believe that the mere tardy acknowledgment 
of her innocence could make amends for wrongs 
and agonies such as these? or heal a heart which 
must have bled inwardly, consumed by that un- 
told grief "which burns worse than tears drown" ? 
Keeping in view the peculiar character of Her- 
mione, such as she is delineated, is she one either 
to forgive hastily or forget quickly? and though 
she might, in her solitude, mourn over her re- 
pentant husband, would his repentance suffice 
to restore him at once to his place in her heart, 
to efface from her strong and reflecting mind the 
recollection of his miserable weakness? or can we 
fancy this high-souled woman — ^left childless 
through the injury which has been inflicted on her, 
widowed in her heart by the unworthiness of him 
she loved, a spectacle of grief to all — to her hus- 
band a continual reproach and humiliation — walk- 
ing through the parade of royalty in the court 
which had witnessed her anguish, her shame, her 
degradation, and her despair? Methinks that 
the want of feeling, nature, delicacy, and con- 

178 Sbatieepeare's 1bevolnc9i 

sistency would lie in such an exhibition as this. 
In a mind like Hermione's, where the strength 
of feeling is founded in the power of thought, 
and where there is little of impulse or imagina- 
tion, — "the depth, but not the tumult of the 
soul,"^ — there are but two influences which pre- 
dominate over the will — time and religion. And ' 
what then remained but that, wounded in heart 
and spirit, she should retire from the world? — 
not to brood over her wrongs, but to study for- 
giveness, and wait the fulfilment of the oracle 
which had promised the termination of her sor- 
rows. Thus a premature reconciliation would 
not only have been painfully inconsistent with 
the character, it would also have deprived us of 
that most beautiful scene, in which Hermione is 
discovered to her husband as the statue or image 
of herself. And here we have another instance 
of that admirable art with which the dramatic 
character is fitted to the circumstances in which 
it is placed; that perfect command over her own 
feelings, that complete self-possession necessary 
to this extraordinary situation, is consistent with 
all that we imagine of Hermione : in any other 
woman it would be so incredible as to shock all,, 
our ideas of probability. 

This scene, then, is not only one of the most_ 
picturesque and striking instances of stage ef- 
fect to be found in the ancient or modem drama, 
but by the skilful manner in which it is prepared 

' The gods approve 

The depth, and not the tumult of the soul. 


Itermfone. 179 

it has, wonderful as it appears, all the merit of 
consistency and truth. The grief, the love, the 
remorse and impatience of Leontes are finely con- 
trasted with the astonishment and admiration of 
Perdita, who, gazing on the figure of her mother 
like one entranced, looks as if she were also 
turned to marble. There is here one little in- 
stance of tender remembrance in Leontes which 
adds to the charming impression of Hermione's 
character : 

Chide me, dear stone! that I may say indeed 
Thou art Hermione; or rather thou art she 
In thy not chiding, for she was as tender 
As infancy and grace. 

Thus she stood. 
Even with such life of majesty — warm life. 
As now it coldly stands — when first I woo'd her ! 

The effect produced on the different persons 
of the drama by this living statue — an effect 
which at the same moment is and is not illusion 
— ^the manner in which the feelings of the spec- 
tators become entangled between the conviction 
of death and the impression of life, the idea of 
a deception and the feeling of a reality, and the 
exquisite coloring of poetry and touches of nat- 
ural feeling with which the whole is wrought up, 
till wonder, expectation, and intense pleasure hold 
our pulse and breath suspended on the event, are 
quite inimitable. 

The expressions used here by Leontes, 

Thus she stood. 
Even with such life of majesty — xjuarm life. 

180 Sbaftcspeare'5 Iberolnes. 

The fixture of her eye has motion in 't. 
And we are mock'd with art! 

and by Polixenes, 

The very life seems warm upon her lip, 

appear strangely applied to a statue, such as we 
usually imagine it — of the cold, colorless marble ; 
but it is evident that in this scene Hermione per- 
sonates one of those images or effigies, such as 
we may see in the old Gothic cathedrals, in which 
the stone or marble was colored after nature. I 
remember coming suddenly upon one of these ef- 
figies, either at Basle or at Fribourg, which made 
me start : the figure was large as life ; the drapery 
of crimson, powdered with stars of gold ; the face, 
and eyes, and hair tinted after nature, though 
faded by time: it stood in a Gothic niche, over 
a tomb, as I think, and in a kind of dim, uncer- 
tain light. It would have been very easy for 
a living person to repres^t such an effigy, par- 
ticularly if it had been painted by that "rare Ital- 
ian master, Julio Romano,"^ who, as we are in- 
formed, was the reputed author of this wonder- 
ful statue. 

The moment when Hermione descends from 
her pedestal to the sound of soft music, and 
throws herself, without speaking, into her hus- 
band's arms, is one of inexpressible interest. It 
appears to me that her silence during the whole 
of this scene (except where she invokes a bless- 
ing on her daughter's head) is in the finest taste 

' "Winter's Tale," act v. scene 3. 

Ketmtone. 181 

as a poetical beauty, besides being an admirable 
trait of character. The misfortunes of Hermione, 
her long religious seclusion, the wonderful and 
almost supernatural part she has just enacted, 
have invested her with such a sacred and awful 
charm, that any words put into her mouth must, 
I think, have injured the solemn and profound 
pathos of the situation. 

There are several among Shakespeare's char- 
acters which exercise a far stronger power over 
our feelings, our fancy, our understanding, than 
that of Hermione; but notione — unless-, perhaps, 
Cordelia — constructed upon so high and pure a 
principle. It is the union of gentleness with 
power which constitutes the perfection of men- 
tal grace. Thus among the ancients, with whom 
the graces were also the charities (to show, per- 
haps, that while form alone may constitute beauty, 
sentiment is necessary to grace), one and the 
same word signified equally strength and virtue. 
This feeling, carried into the fine arts, was the 
secret of the antique grace — the grace of repose. 
The same eternal nature — ^the same sense of im- 
mutable truth and beauty — which revealed this 
sublime principle of art to the ancient Greeks, 
revealed it to the genius of Shakespeare ; and the 
character of Hermione, in which we have the 
same largeness of conception and delicacy of ex- 
ecution — ^the same effect of suffering without 
passion, and grandeur without effort — is an in- 
stance, I think, that he felt within himself, and 
by intuition, what we study all our lives in the 
remains of ancient art, The calm, regular, clas- 

182 Sbaftcspeare's Ibcrofnes. 

sical beauty of Hermione's character is the more 
impressive from the wild and Gothic accompani- 
ments of her story, and the beautiful relief af- 
forded by the pastoral and romantic grace which 
is thrown around her daughter Perdita. 

The character of Paulina in the "Winter's 
Tale," though it has obtained but little notice, 
and no critical remark (that I have seen), is yet 
one of the striking beauties of the play; and it 
has its moral, too. As we see running through the 
whole universe that principle of contrast which 
may be called the life of nature, so we behold 
it everywhere illustrated in Shakespeare: upon 
this principle he has placed Emilia beside Des- 
demona, the nurse beside Juliet; the clowns and 
dairy-maids, and the merry peddlar thief Autol- 
ycus, round Florizel and Perdita; and made 
Paulina the friend of Hermione. 

Paulina does not fill any ostensible office near 
the person of the queen, but is a lady of high 
rank in the court — the wife of the Lord Antig- 
ones. She is a character strongly drawn from 
real and common life — a clever, generous, strong- 
minded, warm-hearted woman, fearless in assert- 
ing the truth, firm in her sense of right, enthu- 
siastic in all her affections ; quick in thought, res- 
olute in word, and energetic in action ; but heed- 
less, hot-tempered, impatient, loud, bold, voluble, 
and turbulent of tongue; regardless of the feel- 
ings of those for whom she would sacrifice her 
life, and injuring from excess of zeal those whom 
she most wishes to serve. How many such are 
there in the world ! But Paulina, though a very 

Wccmione. 183 

termagant, is yet a poetical termagant in her way ; 
and the manner in which all the evil and dan- 
gerous tendencies of such a temper are placed 
before us, even while the individual character 
preserves the strongest hold upon our respect and 
admiration, forms an impressive lesson, as well 
as a natural and delightful portrait. 

In the scene, for instance, where she brings 
the infant before Leontes with the hope of soft- 
ening him to a sense of his injustice — ^''an office 
which," as she observes, "becomes a woman best" 
— her want of self-government, her bitter, in- 
considerate reproaches, only add, as we might 
easily suppose, to his fury. 


I say I come 
From your good queen ! 


Good queen! 


Good queen, my lord, good queen : I say, good queen : 
And would by combat make her good, so were I 
A man, the worst about you. 


Force her hence. 


Let him that makes but trifles of his eyes 
First hand me: on mine own accord, I'll off; 
But first, I'll do mine errand. — The good queen 
(For she is good) hath brought you forth a daugh- 
Here 'tis; commends it to your blessing. 

184 Sbaftespeatc's Ibetofnes. 


Traitors ! 
Will you not push her out? Give her the bastard. 


For ever 
Unvenerable be' thy hands, if thou 
Tak'st up the princess by that forced baseness 
Which he has put upon 't! 


He dreads his wife. 


So I would you did ; then 'twere past all doubt 
You'd call your children yours. 


A callat. 
Of boundless tongue : who late hath beat her husband 
And now baits me ! — This brat is none of mine ! 


It is yours, 
And might we lay the old proverb to your charge, 
So like you, 'tis the worse. 


A gross hag ! 
And lozel, thou art worthy to be hang'd. 
That wilt not stay her tongue. 


Hang all the husbands 
That cannot do that feat, you'll leave yourself 
Hardly one subject. 


Once more, take her hence I 


A most unworthy and unnatural lord 
Can do no more. 

SBetmtone. 185 


I'll ha' thee burned. 


I care not ; 
It is an heretic that makes the fire. 
Not she which burns in 't. 

Here, while we honor her courage and her 
affection, we cannot' help regretting her violence. 
We see, too, in Paulina, what we so often see in 
real life, that it is not those who are most sus- 
ceptible in their own temper and feelings who 
are most delicate and forbearing towards the feel- 
ings of others. She does not comprehend, or 
will not allow for, the sensitive weakness of a 
mind less firmly tempered than her own. There 
is a reply of Leontes to one of her cutting 
speeches which is full of feeling, and a lesson 
to those who, with the best intentions in the 
world, force the painful truth like a knife into 
the already lacerated heart. 


If, one by one, you wedded all the world, 
Or, from the all that are, took something good, 
To make a perfect woman; she you kill'd, 
Would be unparallel'd. 


I think so. Kill'd! 
She I kill'd? I did so; but thou strik'st me 
Sorely, to say I did ; it is as bitter 
Upon thy tongue, as in my thought. Now, good now. 
Say so but seldom. 

186 Sbaliespcace's Ibetolncg. 


Not at all, good lady: 
You might have spoken a thousand things that would 
Have done the time more benefit, and grac'd 
Your kindness better. 

We can only excuse Paulina by recollecting 
that it is a part of her purpose to keep alive in 
the heart of Leontes the remembrance of his 
queen's perfections, and of his own cruel injus- 
tice. It is admirable, too, that Hermione and 
Paulina, while sufficiently approximated to af- 
ford all the pleasure of contrast, are never 
brought too nearly in contact on the scene or in 
the dialogue;' for this would have been a fault 
in taste, and have necessarily weakened the ef- 
fect of both characters : either the serene gran- 
deur of Hermione would have subdued and over- 
awed the fiery spirit of Paulina, or the impetu- 
ous temper of the latter must have disturbed in 
some respect our impression of the calm, majes- 
tic, and somewhat melancholy beauty of Her- 

° Only in the last scene, when with solemnity, befit- 
ting the occasion, Paulina invokes the majestic figure tO' 
"descend, and be stone no more," and where she pres- 
ents her daughter to her, "Turn, good lady I our Ferdita 
is found." 

Missing Page 

Missing Page 

Bes^emona. 189 

Anthropophagi, and men whose heads did grow 
beneath their shoulders." With just such sto- 
ries did Raleigh and Clifford, and their followers 
return from the New World: and thus by their 
splendid or fearful exaggerations, which the im- 
perfect knowledge of those times could not re- 
fute, was the passion for the romantic and mar- 
veUous nourished at home, particularly among 
the women. /^ cavalier of those days had no 
nearer, no surer way to his mistress's „hea_rt than 
by entertaining her wTtTi these wondrous nar- 
ratives. What was a general feature of his time 
Shakespeare seized and adapted to his purpose 
with the most exquisite felicity of effect. Des- 
demona, leaving her household cares in haste to 
hang breathless on Othello's tales, was doubtless 
a picture from the life; and her inexperience and 
her quick imagination lend it an added propriety: 
then her compassionate disposition is interested 
by all the disastrous chances, hair-breadth 'scapes, 
and moving accidents by flood and field, of which 
he has to tell ; and her exceeding gentleness and 
timidity, and her domestic turn of mind, render . 
her more easily captivated by the military renown, . 
the valor, and lofty bearing of the noble Moor — 

And to his honours and his valiant parts 
Does she her soul and fortunes consecrate. 

The confession and the excuse for her love is 
well placed in the mouth of Desdemona, while 
the history of the rise of that love, and of his 
course of wooing, is, with the most graceful 

190 Sbaftespcare'B ftetofneg. 

propriety, as far as she is concerned, spoken by 
Othello, and in her absence. The last two lines 
summing up the whole — 

She loved me for the dangers I had passed, 
And I loved her that she did pity them — 

comprise whole volumes of sentiment and 

Desdemona displays at times a transient en- 
ergy, arising from the power of affection, but 
gentleness gives the prevailing tone to the char- 
acter — gentleness in its excess — ^gentleness verg- 
ing on passiveness — ^gentleness, Avhich not only 
cannot resent — ^but cannot resist. 


Then of so gentle a condition! 


Ay! too gentle 


Nay, that's certain. 

Here the exceeding softness of Desdempna!s 
temper is turrie9'"agamsf her by lago, so that it 
suddenly strikes Othello in a new point of view, 
as the inability to resist temptation; but to us 
who perceive the character as a whole, this ex- 
treme gentleness of nature is yet delineated with 
such exceeding refinement, that the effect never 
approaches to feebleness. It is true that once 
extreme timidity leads her in a moment of con- 
fusion and terror to prevaricate about the fatal 

DesDemona. 191 

handkerchief. This handkerchief, in the original 
/ story of Cinthio, is merely one of those embroid- 
ered handkerchiefs which were as fashionable in 
Shakespeare's time as in our own ; but the minute 
description of it as "lavorato alia morisco sottilis- 
simamente,"^ suggested to the poetical fancy of 
Shakespeare one of the most exquisite and char- 
acteristic passages in the whole play. Othello 
makes poor Desdemona believe that the hand- 
kerchief was a talisman. 

There's magick in the web of it: 
A sybil, that had number'd in the world 
The sun to course two hundred compasses. 
In her prophetick fury sew'd the work: 
The worms were hallow'd that did breed the silk. 
And it was dyed in mummy, which the skillful 
Conserv'd of maidens' hearts. 


Indeed I is 't true? 


Most veritable, therefore, look to 't well. 


Then would to heaven that I had never seen it I 


Ha! wherefore! 


Why do you speak so startingly and rash? 

• Which being interpreted into modern English means, 
I believe, nothing more than that the pattern was what 
we now call arabesque. 

192 SbaRespeatc's tiexoinee. 


Is 't lost— is 't gone? Speak, is 't out of the way? 


Heaven bless us! 


Say you? 


It is not lost: But what an if it were? 




I say, it is not lost 


Fetch 't, let me see t 


Why, so I can, sir, but I will not now, &c. 

Desdemona, whose soft credulity, whose turn 
for the marvellous, whose susceptible imagina- 
tion had first directed her thoughts and affections 
to Othello, is precisely the woman to be fright- 
ened out of her senses by such a tale as this, and 
betrayed by her fears into a momentary ter- 
giversation. It is most natural in such a being, 
an3~§ht)ws-us that even in the sweetest natures 
there can be na completeness and consistency 
witjiout moral energy.* 

' There is an incident in the original tale, "II Moro di 
Venezia," which could not well be transferred to the 
drama, but which is very effective, and adds, I think. 

)B)e0demona. 193 

With tfie most perfect artlessness, she has 
something of the in stinctive, unc onscious address 
of her §£x; as when she appeals to her fatHeF^^^ 

So much duty as my mother show'd 
To you, preferring you before her father, 
So much I challenge, that I may profess 
Due to the Moor, my lord. 

And when she is pleading for Cassio — 

What! Michael Cassio! 
That came a wooing with you ; and so many a time. 
When I have spoke of you disparagingly, 
Hath ta'en your part? 

In persons who unite great sensibility and 
lively fancy, I have often observed this particular 
species of address, which is always unconscious 
of itself, and consists in the power of placing,-' 
ourselves in the position of another, and imagifi- 
ing, rather than perceiving, what is iti^ their 
hearts. We women have this address^(ii so it 
can be called*) naturally, but I hav«' seldom met 
with it in men. It is not incossgistent with ex- 

to the circumstantial horrors oti^riie story. Desdemona 
does not accidentally drop the /handkerchief ; it is stolen 
from her by lago's little ithild, an infant of three 
years old, whom he trains^r bribes to the theft. The 
love of Desdemona for t'lffg child, her little playfellow — 
the pretty description of her taking it in her arms and 
caressing it, while ij^^ofits by its situation to steal the 
handkerchief fromfher bosom, are well imagined, and 
beautifully told^and the circumstance of lago em- 
ploying his o-vwji innocent child as the instrument of his 
infernal villa^y, adds a deeper, and, in truth, an un- 
necessary tou(,;ji of the fiend to his fiendish charagter. 

194 SbaReepeate's Ibetoines. 

treme simplicity of character, and quite distinct 
from that kind of art which is the result of nat- 
ural acuteness and habits of observation — quick 
to perceive the foibles of others; and as quick 
to turn them to its own purposes; which is al- 
ways conscious of itself, and, if united with 
strong intellect, seldom perceptible to others. In 
the mention of her mother, and the appeal to 
Othello's self-love, Desdemona has no design 
formed on conclusions previously drawn ; but her 
intuitive quickness of feeling, added to her imag- 
ination, lead her more safely to the same results, 
and the distinction is as truly as it is delicately 

When Othello first outrages her in a man- 
ner which appears inexplicable, she seeks and 
finds excuses for him. ^hp^j*; f^ri inn''"'p"*'; <'hat 
not only_she._cannot believe herself -sixspect£d,.Jhiut 
she cannot cpnceiye^he "existence of guilt in 

Something, sure, of state, — 
Either from Venice ; or some unhatch'd practice 
Made demonstrable here in Cyprus to him, — 
Hath puddled his clear spirit. 

' 'Tis even so — 
Nay, we must think, men are not gods, 
Nor of them look for b'^ch observances 
As fit the bridal. \ 

And when the direct accusatipn of crinje_is flung 
on her in the vilest terms, it do'^^s not anger but 
stjin.h,e.r, as if it transfixed her wJ(ole being,; she 
attempts no reply, no defence; an^ reproach oi 
resistance never enters her thought.}' 

S>esdemona. 195 

Good friend, go to him ; — for, by this light of heaven, 
I know not how I lost him. Here I kneel : — 
If e'er my will did trespass 'gainst his love. 
Either in discourse of thought, or actual deed; 
Or that mine eyes, mine ears, or any sense. 
Delighted them in any other form; 
Or that I do not yet, and ever did, 
And ever will, — though he do shake me off 
To beggarly divorcement, — ^love him dearly. 
Comfort forswear me I Unkindness may do much. 
And his unkindness may defeat my life. 
But never taint my love. 

And there is one stroke of consummate deli- 
cacy, surprising, when we remember the latitude 
of expression prevailing in Shakespeare's time, 
and which he allowed to his other women gen- 
erally: she says, on recovering from her stupe- 
faction — 

Am I that name, lago? 


What name, fair lady ? 


Such as, she says, my lord did say I was? 

So comgletelx did,.Shakespeare enter into the an- 
gelic refinement of the character,.. 

Endued with that temper which is the origin 
of superstition in love as in religion, — ^which 
in fact, makes love itself a religion,— she not only 
does not utter an upbraiding, but nothing that 
Othello does or says, no outrage, no injustice, 
can tear away the charm with which her imagina- 
tion had invested him, or impair her faith in 

196 Sbaftespeate's "bevoincs. 

his honor. "I would you had never seen him!" 
exclaims Emilia. 


So would not I ! — my love doth so approve him. 
That even his stubbornness, his checks, and frowQSt 
Have grace and favour in them. 

There is another peculiarity, which, in read- 
ing the play of "Othello," we rather feel than 
perceive: through the whole of the dialogue ap- 
propriated to Desdempna, there is not one gen- 
eral observation. ,x^^ds__are with- her the ve- 
hicle of sentirnent, and never of reflection; so 
that I cannot find throughout a sentence of gen- 
eral application. The same remark applies to 
Miranda: and to no other female character of 
any importance or interest; not even to Ophelia. 

The rest of what I wished to say of Desde- 
mona has been anticipated by an anonymous 
critic, and so beautifully, so justly, so eloquently 
expressed, that I with pleasure erase my own 
page to make room for his. 

"Othello," observes this writer, "is no love 
story; all that is below tragedy in the passion 
of love is taken away at once, by the awful char- 
acter of Othello; for such he seems to us to be 
designed to be. He appears never as a lover, 
but at once as a husband; and the relation of 
his love made dignified, as it is a husband's jus- 
tification of his marriage, is also dignified, as it 
is a soldier's relation of his stern and perilous 
life. His love itself, as long as it is happy, is 
perfectly calm and serene — the protecting tender- 

2>esdemona. 197 

ness of a husband. It is not till it is disordered 
that it appears as a passion: then is shown a 
power in contention with itself — a. mighty be- 
ing struck with death, and bringing up from all 
the depths of life convulsions and agonies. It 
is no exhibition of the power of the passion of 
love, but of the passion of life, vitally wounded, 
and self-overmastering. If Desdemona had been 
really guilty, the greatness would have been de- 
stroyed, because his love would have been un- 
vfrorthy, false. But she is good, and his love 
is most perfect, just, and good. That a man 
should place his perfect love on a wretched thing 
is miserably debasing, and shocking to thought ; 
but that loving perfectly and well, he should 
■ by hellish human circumvention be brought to dis- 
trust and dread, and abjure his own perfect love, 
is most mournful indeed — it is the infirmity of 
our good nature wrestling in vain with the strong 
powers of evil. Moreover, he would, had Des- 
demona been false, have been the mere victim 
of fate; whereas he is now in a manner his own 
victim. His- happy love was heroic tenderness; 
his injured love is terrible passion; and disor- 
dered power engendered within itself to its own 
destruction, is the height of all tragedy. 

"The character of Othello is perhaps the most 
greatly drawn, the most heroic, of any of Shake- 
speare's actors; but it is, perhaps, that one also 
of which his reader last acquires .the intelligence. 
The intellectual and warlike energy of his mind 
— ^his tenderness of affection — ^his loftiness of 
spirit, his frank, generous magnanimity — impetu- 

198 Sbaliespeace'0 "Ssevoinee. 

osity like a thunderbolt — and that dark, fierce 
flood of boiling passion, polluting even his imag- 
ination, — compose a character entirely original, 
most difficult to delineate, but perfectly deline- 
ated." ; 

Emilia in this play is a perfect portrait from 
common life, a masterpiece in the Flemish style; 
and though not necessary as a contrast, it can- 
not be but that the thorough vulgarity, the loose 
principles, of this plebeian woman, luiited to a 
high degree of spirit, energetic feeling, strong 
sense, and low cunning, serve to place in brighter 
relief the exquisjts. J£finemait,_J;he moral grace, 
the unblemish^d_ truth, and thc-soft-sutMnissiop 

On the other perfections of this tragedy, con- 
sidered as a production of genius — on the won- 
derful characters of Othello and lago — on the 
skill with which the plot is conducted, and its 
simplicity which a word unravels,^ and on the 
overpowering horror of the catastrophe'-^€lo- 
quence and analytical criticism have been ex- 
hausted ; I will on ly„addj-lhat ^e source of_the 
pathos throughout — of that pathos "wfiich at once 
softens aiid" deepens the tragic effect — lies in 
the character of Desdemona. No woman dif- 

' Consequences are so linked together, that the ex- 
clamation of Emilia, 

thou dull Moor ! — That handkerchief thou speakest of 

1 found by fortune, and did give my husband ! — 

is sufficient to reveal to Othello the whole history of his 

l>e8^emona. 199 

ferently constituted could have excited the same 
intense and painful compassion without losing 
something of that exalted charm which invests 
her from beginning to end, which we are apt to 
impute Jtothejnterest of the situation and to the 
■poetical coloring,^^6^i.irj^KQK:ltesr:in:Jact, j^ the 
veiyessence of the character. Desdemona, with 

"^r her timid' flexibility .and soft acquiescence,, is 
not___^e^k; for the negative alone is weak; and 
the mere presence of goodness and affection im^ 
plies in itself a, species of. pojKer; -power withr 
out consciousness, pow^r without effort, power 
with repose — ^that soul of grace ! 

I know a Desde«iona in real life, one in whom 
the absence of intellectual power is never felt as 
a deficiency, nor the absence of energy of will 
as impairing the dignity, nor the most imper- 
turbable serenity, as a want of feeling: one in 
whom thoughts appear mere instincts, the senti- 

, ment of rectitude supplies the principle, and vir- 
tue itself seems rather' a necessary state of be- 
ing than an imposed law. No shade of sin or 
vanity has yet stolen over that bright innocence. 
No discord within has marred the loveliness 
without — ng^strjie .. of the factitious, world with- 
QUt has disturbed the harmony within. The 
comprehension of evil appears for ever shut out, 
as if goodness had converted all things to itself; 
and all4o the pure in heart must necessarily be 
pure. fThe impression produced is exactly that 
of the character of Desdemona ; genius is a rare 
thing, but abstract goodness is rarer. In Des- 
demona we cannot but feel that the slightest 


Sbal^espeate'0 t>eroine0. 

manifestation of intellectual power or active will 
would have injured the dramatic effect. She is 
a victim consecrated from the first, — "an offer- 
ing without blemish," alone worthy of the grand 
final sacrifice; all harmony, all grace, all purity, 
all tenderness, all truth! But, alas! to see her 
fluttering hke a cherub, in the talons of a fiend ! 
— ^to see her — Q poor Desdemona ! 

Imosen. 201 


We now come to Imogen. Others of Shake- 
speare's characters are, as dramatic and poetical 
conceptions, more striking, more brilliant, more 
powerful; but of all his women, considered as 
individuals rather than as heroines, Imogen is 
Jthe most perfect. Portia and Juliet are pictured 
to the fancy "with more force of contrast, more 
depth of light and shade; Viola and Miranda, 
with more aerial delicacy of outline; but there 
is no female portrait that can be compared to 
Imogen as a woman — ^none in which so great a 
variety of tints are mingled together into such 
perfect harmony. In her, we have all the fer- 
vor of youthful tenderness, all the romance of 
youthful fancy, all the enchantment of ideal 
grace, — the bloom of beauty, the brightness of 
intellect, and the dignity of rank, taking a pe- 
culiar hue from the conjugal character which is 
shed over all, like a consecration and a holy 
charm. In "Othello" and the "Winter's Tale" 
the interest excited for Desdemona and Hermione 
is divided with others: but in "Cymbeline" 
Imogen is the angel of light, whose lovely pres- 
ence pervades and animates the whole piece. The 
character altogether may be pronounced finer, 
inore complex in its elements, and more fully 


202 Sbahespeate's "Sjetofncs. 

developed in all its parts, than those of Hermione 
and Desdemona; but the position in which she 
is placed is not, I think, so fine — at least, not so 
effective — as a tragic situation. 

Shakespeare has borrowed the chief circum- 
stances of Imogen's story from one of Boccac- 
cio's tales.* 

A company of Italian merchants who are as- 
sembled in a tavern at Paris are represented as 
conversing on the- subject of their wives : all of 
them express themselves with levity, or scep- 
ticism, or scorn, on the virtue of women, except 
a young Genoese merchant, named Bernabo, who 
maintains, that, by the especial favor of Heaven, 
he possesses a wife no less chaste than beauti- 
ful. Heated by the wine, and excited by the 
arguments and the coarse raillery of another 
young merchant, Ambrogiolo, Bernabo proceeds 
to enumerate the various perfections and accom- 
plishments of his Zinevra. He praises her love- 
liness, her submission, and her discretion — ^her 
skill in embroidery, her graceful service, in which 
the best-trained page of the court could not ex- 
ceed her; and he adds, as rarer accomplishments, 
that she could mount a horse, fly a hawk, write, 
and read, and cast up accounts as well as any 
merchant of them all. His enthusiasm only ex- 
cites the laughter and mockery of his compan- 
ions, particularly of Ambrogiolo, who, by the 
most artful mixture of contradiction and argu- 
ment, rouses the anger of Bernabo, and he at 

'Decamerone. Novella, gmo. Giortiata, sdo. 

fmogen. 203 

length exclaims that he would willingly stake 
his life, his head, on the virtue of his wife. This 
leads to the wager which forms so important 
an incident in the drama. Ambrogiolo bets one 
thousand florins of gold against five thousand, 
that Zinevra, like the rest of her sex, is accessible 
to temptation — that in less than three months 
he will undermine her virtue, and bring her hus- 
band the most undeniable proofs of her false- 
hood. He sets off for Genoa, in order to ac- 
complish his purpose ; but on his arrival, all that ' 
he learns, and all that he beholds with his own 
eyes, of the discreet and noble character of the 
lady, make him despair of success by fair means ; 
he therefore has recourse to the basest treachery. 
By bribing an old woman in the service of Zine- 
vra, he is conveyed to her sleeping apartment 
concealed in a trunk, from which he issues in the- 
dead of the night; he takes note of the, furniture 
of the chamber, makes himself master of her 
purse, her morning robe, or cymar, and her gir- 
dle, and of a certain mark on her person. He 
repeats these observations for two nights, and, 
furnished with these evidences of Zinevra's guilt, - 
he returns to Paris, and lays them before the 
wretched husband. Bernabo rejects every proof 
of his wife's infidelity, except that which finally 
convinces Posthumus. When Ambrogiolo men- 
tions the "mole, cinque-spotted," he stands like 
one who has received a poniard in his heart; 
without further dispute he pays down the for- 
feit, and, filled with rage and despair, both at 
the loss of his money and the falsehood of his 

204 SbUkeepenve's Ijecofned. 

wife, he returns towards Genoa ; he retires to his 
country house, and sends a messenger to the city 
with letters to Zinevra, desiring that she would 
come and meet him, but with secret orders to 
the man to despatch her by the way. The serv- 
ant prepares to execute his master's command, 
but, overcome by her entreaties for mercy, and his 
own remorse, he spares her life, on condition that 
she will fly from the country for ever. He then 
disgiiises her in hjs own cloak and cap, and brings 
back to her husband the assurance that she is 
killed, and that her body has been devoured by 
the wolves. In the disguise of a mariner, Zine- 
vra then embarks on board a vessel bound to the 
Levant, and on arriving at Alexandria she is 
taken into the service of the Sultan of Egypt, 
under the name of Sicurano; she gains the con- 
fidence of her master, who, not suspecting her 
sex, sends her as captain of the guard which was 
appointed for the protection of the merchants at 
the fair of Acre. Here she accidentally meets 
Ambrogiolo, and sees in his possession the purse 
and girdle, which she immediately recognizes as 
her own. In reply to her inquiries, he relates 
with fiendish exultation the manner in which he 
had obtained possession of them, and she per- 
suades him to go back to Alexandria. She then 
sends a messenger to Genoa in the name of the 
Sultan, and induces her husband to come and 
settle in Alexandria. At a proper opportunity, 
she summons both to the presence of the Sul- 
tan, obliges Ambrogiolo to make a full confes- 
sion of his treachery, and wrings from her hus- 

fmogeti. 205 

band the avowal of his supposed murder of her- 
self : then, falling at the feet of the Sultan, dis- 
covers her real name and sex, to the great amaze- 
. ment of all. Bemabo is pardoned at the prayer 
of his wife, and Ambrogiolo is condemned to 
be fastened to a stake, smeared with honey, and 
left to be devoured by the flies and locusts. This 
horrible sentence is executed; while Zinevra, en- 
riched by the presents of the Sultan, and the for- 
feit wealth of Ambrogiolo, returns with her hus- 
band to Genoa, where she lives in great honor 
and happiness, and maintains her reputation for 
virtue to the end of her life. 

These are the materials from which Shake- 
speare has drawn the dramatic situation of Imo- 
gen. He has also endowed her with several of 
the qualities which are attributed to Zinevra; 
but for the essential truth and beauty of the in- 
dividual character, for the sweet coloring of 
pathos, and sentiment, and poetry, interfused 
through the whole, he is indebted only to na- 
ture and himself. 

It would be a waste of words to refute cer- 
tain critics who have accused Shakespeare of a 
want of judgment in the adaption of the story; 
of having transferred the manners of a set of 
intoxicated merchants and a merchant's wife to 
heroes and princesses, and of having entirely de- 
stroyed the interest of the catastrophe. The 
truth is, that Shakespeare has wrought out the 
materials before him with the most luxuriant 
fancy and the most wonderful skill. As for the 
various anachronisms, and the confusion of 

206 Sbaltespeate's Ibetoines. 

names, dates and manners, over which Dr. John- 
son exults in no measured terms, the confusion 
is nowhere but in his own heavy obtuseness of 
sentiment and perception, and his want of poet- 
ical faith. Look into the old Italian poets, whom 
we read continually with still increasing pleas- 
ure; does any one think of sitting down to dis- 
prove the existence of Ariodante, king of Scot- 
land? or to prove that the mention of Proteus 
and Pluto, baptism and the Virgin Mary, in a 
breath, amounts to an anachronism? Shake- 
speare, by throwing his story far back into a re- 
mote and uncertain age, has blended, by his "own 
omnipotent will," the marvellous, the heroic, the 
ideal, and the classical — the extreme of refine- 
ment and the extreme of simplicity — into one of 
the loveliest fictions of romantic poetry; and, to 
use Schlegel's expression, "has made the social 
manners of the latest times harmonize with heroic 
deeds, and even with the appearance of the 

But admirable as is the conduct of the whole 
play, rich in variety of character and in pictur- 
esque incident, its chief beauty and interest is 
derived from Imogen. 

When Ferdinand tells Miranda that she was 
"created of every creature's best," he speaks like 
a lover, or refers only to her personal charms: 
the same expression might be applied critically 
to the character of Imogen; for as the portrait 

• See Hazlitt and Schlegel on the catastrophe of "Cynv 

fmogen. 207 

of Miranda is produced by resolving the female 
character into its original elements, so tiiat of 
Imogen unites the greatest number of those quali- 
ties which we imagine to constitute excellence 
in woman. 

Imogen, like Juliet, conveys to our mind the 
impression of extreme simplicity in the midst of 
the most wonderful complexity. To conceive 
her aright, we must take some peculiar tint from 
many characters, and so mingle them, that, like 
the combination of hues in a sunbeam, the effect 
shall be as one to the eye. We must imagine 
something of the romantic enthusiasm of Juliet, 
of the truth and constancy of Helen, of the dig- 
nified purity of Isabel, of the tender sweetness 
of Viola, of the seli-possession and intellect of 
Portia, combined together so equally and so har- 
moniously that we can scarcely say that one qual- 
ity predominates over the other. But Imogen 
is less imaginative than Juliet, less spirited and 
intellectual than Portia, less serious than Helen 
and Isabel ; her dignity is not so imposing as that 
of Hermione, it stands more on the defensive; 
her submission, though unbounded, is not so 
passive as that of Desdemona; and thus, while 
she resembles each of these characters individ- 
ually, she stands wholly distinct from all. 

It is true that the conjugal tenderness of Imo- 
gen is at once the chief subject of the drama and 
the pervading charm of her character; but if is 
not true, I think, that she is merely interesting 
from her tenderness and constancy to her hus- 
band. We are so completely let into the essence 

208 Sbakespeate's Ibcroinea. 

of Imogen's nature, that we feel as if we had 
known and loved her before she was married 
to Posthumus, and that her conjugal virtues are 
a charm superadded, like the color laid upon a 
beautiful groundwork. Neither does it appear to 
me that Posthumus is unworthy of Imogen, or 
only interesting on Imogen's account. His char- 
acter, like those of all the other persons of the 
drama, is kept subordinate to hers ; but this could 
not be otherwise, for she is the proper subject, 
the heroine of the poem. Everything is done to 
ennoble Posthumus and justify her love for him; 
and though we certainly approve him more for 
her sake than for his own, we are early prepared 
to view him with Imogen's eyes, and not only ex- 
cuse, but sympathize in her admiration of one 

Who sat 'mongst men like a descended god. 

Who lived in court, 
Which it is rare to do, most praised, most lov'd: 
A sample to the youngest; to the more mature 
A glass that feated them. 

And with what beauty and delicacy Is her con- 
jugal and matronly character discriminated ! Her 
love for her husband is as deep as Juliet's for 
her lover, but without any of that headlong vehe- 
mence, that fluttering amid hope, fear, and trans- 
port, — that giddy intoxication of heart and sense, 
which belongs to the novelty of passion, which 
we feel once, and but once, in our lives. We see 
her love for Posthumus acting upon her -mind 
with the force of an habitual feeling, heightened 

Imogen. 209 

by enthusiastic passion, and hallowed by the sense 
of duty. She asserts and justifies her affection 
with energy indeed, but with a calm and wife- 
like dignity. 


Thou took'st a beggar, would'st have made my throne 
A seat for baseness. 

A lustre to it 


No, I rather added 


O thou vile onel 


It is your fault that I have lov'd Posthumus; 
You bred him as my playfellow; and he is 
A man, worth any woman; overbuys me. 
Almost the sum he pays. 

Compare also, as examples of the most deli- 
cate discrimination of character and feeling, the 
parting scene between Imogen and Posthumus, 
that between Romeo and Juliet, and that between 
Triolus and Cressida ; compare the confiding, ma- 
tronly tenderness, the deep but resigned sorrow 
of Imogen, with the despairing agony of Juliet 
and the petulant grief of Cressida. 

When Posthumus is driven into exile, he comes 
to take a last farewell of his wife: 


My dearest husband, 
I something fear my father's wrath; but nothing; 

210 Sbaliespeate's Iberoities. 

(Always reserv'd my holy duty) what 
His rage can do on me. You must be gone; 
And I shall here abide the hourly shot 
Of angry eyes : not comforted to live, 
But that there is this jewel in the world. 
That I may see again. 


My queen ! my mistress I 
O lady, weep no more, lest I give cause 
To be suspected of more tenderness 
Than doth become a man! I will remain 
The loyal'st husband that did e'er plight troth. 

, Should we be taking leave 
As long a term as yet we have to live. 
The lothness to depart would grow. — Adieu ! 


Nay, stay a little: 

Were you but riding forth to air yourself, 
Such parting were too petty. Look here, love. 
This diamond was my mother's: take it, heart; 
But keep it till you woo another wife. 
When Imogen is dead! 

Imogen, in whose tenderness there is nothing 
jealous or fantastic, does not seriously appre- 
hend that her husband will woo another wife, 
when she is dead. It is one of those fond fan-, 
cies which women are apt to express in moments 
of feeling, merely for the pleasure of hearing _ 
a protestation to the contrary. When Posthiunus 
leaves her, she does not burst forth in eloquent 
lamentation ; but that silent, stunning, over- 
whelming sorrow, which renders the mind in- 
sensible to all things else, is represented with 
equal force and simplicity. 

Imogen. 211 


There cannot be a pinch in death 
More sharp than this is. 


O disloyal thing, 
That should'st repair my youth; thou heapest 
A year's age on me ! 


I beseech you, sir, 
Harm not yourself with your vexation; I 
Am senseless of your wrath; a touch more rare" 
Subdues all pangs, all fears. 


Past grace? obedience? 


Past hope, and in despair, — that way; past grace. 

In the same circumstances, the impetuous, excited 
feelings of Juliet, and her vivid imagination, lend 
something far more wildly agitated, more in- 
tensely poetical and passionate, to her grief. 


Art thou gone so? My lord, my love, my friend t 
I must hear from thee every day i' the hour, 
For in a minute there are many days : — 
O! by this count I shall be much in years. 
Ere I again behold my Romeo ! 


Farewell! I will omit no opportunity. 
That may convey my greetings, love, to thee. 

" More rare — ie. most exquisitely poignant. 

212 Sbaftcapcate'g Detoinee. 


O! think'st thou, we shall ever meet again? 


I doubt it not; and all these woes shall serve 
For sweet discourses in our time to come. 


O God ! I have an ill-divining soul : 
Methinks, I see thee, now thou art below. 
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb: 
Either my eyesight fails, or thou look'st pale. 

We have no sympathy with the pouting disap- 
pointment of Cressida, which is just like that of 
a spoilt child which has lost its suger-plum, with- 
out tenderness, passion, or poetry; and, in short, 
perfectly characteristic of that vain, fickle, dis- 
solute, heartless woman, — "unstable as water." 


And is it true, that I must go from Troy? 


A hateful truth. ' 


What, and from Troilus too? 


From Troy, and Troilus. 


Is 't possible? 


And suddenly. 

fmoficn. 213 


I must then to the Grecians? 


No remedy. 


A woeful Cressid 'mongst the merry Greeks I 
When shall we see again? 


Hear me, my love : Be thou but true of heart — 


I true? How now? what wicked deem is this? 


Nay, we must use expostulation kindly. 
For it is parting from us; — 
I speak not, 'be thou true,' as fearing thee; 
For I will throw my glove to Death himself. 
That there's no maculation in thy heart; 
But 'be thou true,' say I, to fashion in 
My sequent protestation. Be thou true. 
And I will see thee. 


O heavens ! 'be true' again ? 
O heavens ! you love me not. 


Die I a villain, then! 

In this I do not call your faith in question. 

So mainly as my merit. 

. . . ■ . But be not tempted. 


Do you think I will ? 

In the eagerness of Imogen to meet her hus- 

214 Sbabespeate'e Ibetofnes. 

band there is all a wife's fondness, mixed up with 
the breathless hurry arising from a sudden and 
joyful surprise; but nothing of the picturesque 
eloquence, the ardent, exuberant Italian imagina- 
tion of Juliet, who, to gratify her impatience, 
would have her heralds thoughts, — ^press into her 
service the nimble-pinioned doves and wind-swift 
Cupids, — change the course of nature, and lash 
the steeds of Phoebus to the west. Imogen only 
thinks "one score of miles, 'twixt sun and sun," 
slow travelling for a lover, and wishes for a horse 
with wings — 

O for a horse with wings! Hear'st thou, Pisanio? 
He is at Milford Haven : Read, and tell me 
How far 'tis thither. If one of mean affairs 
May plod it in a week, why may not I 
Glide thither in a day? Then, true Pisanio, 
(Who long' St, like me, to see thy lord — who long'st — 
O let me 'bate, — but not like me ; yet long'st, — 
But in a fainter kind: — O not like me; 
For mine's beyond beyond), say, and speak thick 
(Love's counsellor should fill the bores of hearing 
To the smothering of the sense), how far it is 
To this same blessed Milford: And, by th' way, 
Tell me how Wales was made so happy, as 
T' inherit such a haven : But, first of all, 
How we may steal from hence; and, for the gap 
That we shall make in time, from our hence-going 
And our return, to excuse : — but first, how get hence : 
Why should excuse be born, or e'er begot? 
We'll talk of that hereafter. Pr'ythee, speak. 
How many score of miles may we well ride 
'Twixt hour and hour? 


One score, 'twixt sun and sun, 
Madam, 's enough for you ; and too much too. 

Iftnoden. 21S 


Why, one that rode to his execution, man. 
Could never go so slow. 

There are two or three other passages bearing 
on the conjugal tenderness of Imogen which must 
be noticed for the extreme intensity of the feel- 
ing, and the unadorned elegance of the expres- 

I would thou grew'st unto the shores o' the haven 
And question'dst every sail : if he should write. 
And I not have it, 'twere a paper lost 
As offer'd mercy is. What was the last 
That he spake to thee? 


'Twas, "His queen ! fais queen I" 


Then wav'd his handkerchief? 


And kiss'd it, madam. 


Senseless linen ! happier therein than I ! — 
And that was all? 


No, madam ; for so long 
As he could make me with this eye or ear 
Distinguish him from others, he did keep 
The deck, with glove, or hat, or handkerchief. 
Still waving, as the fits and stir of 's mind 
Could best express how slow his soul sail'd on. 
How swift his ship. 


Thou should'st have made him 
As little as a crow, or less, ere left 
To after-eye him. 

216 SbaMeepeate's Decofnee. 


Madam, so I did. 


I would have broke my eye-strings ; crack'd them, but 

To look upon him; till the diminution 

Of space had pointed him sharp as my needle ; 

Nay, follow'd him, till he had melted from 

The smallness of a gnat to air ; and then 

Have turn'd mine eye, and wept. 

Two little incidents, which are introduced with 
the most unobtrusive simplicity, convey the 
strongest impression of her tenderness for her 
husband, and with that perfect unconsciousness 
on her part which adds to the effect. Thus, when 
she has lost her bracelet — 

Go, bid my woman 

Search for a jewel, that too casually 

Hath left mine arm. It was thy master's ; 'shrew me, 

If I would lose it for a revenue 

Of any king's in Europe. I do think 

I saw 't this morning; confident I am 

Last night 'twas on mine arm — I kiss'd if. 

J hope it be not gone, to tell my lord 

That I kiss aught but he. 

It has been well observed, that our conscious- 
ness that the bracelet is really gone to bear false 
witness against her adds an inexpressibly touch- 
ing effect to the simplicity and tenderness of the 

And again, when she opens her bosom to meet 
the death to which her husband has doomed her, 
she finds his letters preserved next her heart. 

Soft, we'll no defence 

What's here? 
The scriptures of the loyal Leonatus? — 

fmoflen. 217 

The scene in which Posthumus stakes his ring 
on the virtue of his wife, and gives lachimo per- 
mission to tempt her, is taken from the story. 
The baseness and folly of such conduct have been 
justly censured; but Shakespeare, feeling that 
Posthumus needed every excuse, has managed 
the quarrelling scene between him and lachimo 
with- the most admirable skill. The manner in 
which his high spirit is gradually worked up by 
the taunts of .this Italian fiend is contrived with 
far more probability, and much less coarseness, 
than in the original tale. In the end he is not 
the challenger, but the challenged; and could 
hardly (except on a moral principle much too re- 
fined for those rude times) have declined the wa- 
ger without compromising his own courage, and 
his faith in the honor of Imogen. 


I durst attempt it against any lady in the world. 


You are a great deal abused in too bold a persuasion ; 
and I doubt not you sustain what you're worthy of, by 
your attempt. 


What's that? 


A repulse: though your attempt, as you call it, de- 
serve more ; a punishment too. 


Gentlemen, enough of this : It came in too suddenly ; 
let it die as it was born, and I pray you, be better ac- 

218 SbaRcepcare's 1bero(ncs. 

'Would I had put my estate, and my neighbour's, on 
the approbation of what I have spoke! 


What lady would you choose to assail ? 


Yours; whom in constancy, you think, stands so 

In the interview between Imogen and lachimo, 
he does not begin his attack on her virtue by a 
direct accusation against Posthumus ; but by dark 
hints and half-uttered insinuations, such as lago 
uses to madden Othello, he intimates that her hus- 
band, in his absence from her, has betrayed her 
love and truth, and forgotten her in the arms 
of another. All that Imogen says in this scene 
is comprised in a few lines — a brief question, or 
a more brief remark. The proud and delicate 
reserve with which she veils the anguish she suf- 
fers is inimitably beautiful. The strongest ex- 
pression of reproach he can draw from her is 
only, "My lord, I fear, has forgot Britain." When 
he continues in the same strain, she exclaims in 
an agony, "Let me hear no more !" When he 
urges her to revenge, she asks, with all the sim- 
plicity of virtue, "How should I be revenged?" 
And when he explains to her how she is to be 
avenged, her sudden burst of indignation, and 
her immediate perception of his treachery, and 
the motive for it, are powerfully fine: it is not 
only the anger of a woman whose delicacy has 
been shocked, but the spirit of a princess insulted 
in her court. 

Imogen. 219 

Away! — ^I do condemn mine ears, that have 
So long attended thee.— If thou wert honourable, 
Thou would'st have told this tale for virtue, not 
For such an end thou seek'st; as base as strange. 
That wrong' St a gentleman, who is far 
From thy report, as thou from honour, and 
Solicit'st here a lady, that disdains 
Thee and the devil alike. 

It has been remarked that "her readiness to 
pardon lachimo's false imputation, and his de- 
signs against hersejf, is a good lesson to prudes, 
and may show that where there is a real attach- 
ment to virtue, there is no need of an outrageous 
antipathy to vice." 

This is true; but can we fail to perceive that 
the instant and ready forgiveness of Imogen is 
accounted for, and rendered more graceful and 
characteristic, by the very means which lachimo 
employs to win it? He pours forth the most en- 
thusiastic praises of her husband, professes that 
he merely made this trial of her out of his ex- 
ceeding love for Posthumus, and she is pacified 
at once; but, with exceeding delicacy of feeling, 
she is represented as maintaining her dignified 
reserve and her brevity of speech to the end of 
the scene.^^ 

We must also observe how beautifully the char- 
acter of Imogen is distinguished from those of 
Desdemona and Hermione. When she is made 
acquainted with her husband's cruel suspicions, 
we see in her deportment neither the meek sub- 
mission of the former nor the calm, resolute dig- 

" Vide act i. scene 7. 

220 SbaTiespeate's Ibccoines. 

nity of the latter. The first effect produced on 
her by her husband's letter is conveyed to the 
fancy by the exclamation of Pisanio, who is gaz- 
ing on her as she reads : 

What shall I need to draw my sword? The paper 
Has cut her throat already! — No, 'tis slander; 
Whose edge is sharper than the sword! 

And in her first exclamations we trace, besides 
astonishment and anguish, and the acute sense 
of the injustice inflicted on her, a flash of in- 
dignant spirit, which we do not find in Desde- 
mona or Hermione. 

False to his bed! — What! is it to be false 

To lie in watch there, and to think on him? 

To weep 'twixt clock and clock ? If sleep charge nature, 

To break it with a fearful dream of him. 

And cry myself awake? — that's false to his bed. 

Is it? 

This is followed by that affecting lamentation 
over the falsehood and injustice of her husband, 
in which she betrays no atom of jealousy or 
wounded self-love, but observes, in the extremity 
of her anguish, that after his lapse from truth 
"all good seeming would be discredited," and 
she then resigns herself to his will with the most . 
entire submission. 

In the original story, Zinevra prevails on the 
servant to spare her, by her exclamations and en- 
treaties for mercy. "The lady, seeing the poniard, 
and hearing those words, exclaimed in terror, 
'Alas! have pity on me for tlie love of heaven! 

Imogen. ~ 221 

do not become the slayer of one who never of- 
fended thee only to pleasure another ! God, who 
knows all things, knows that I have never done 
that which could merit such a reward from my 
husband's hand.' " 

Now let us turn to Shakespeare. Imogen says : 

Come fellow, be thou honest; 
Do thou thy master's bidding : when thou seest him, 
A little witness my obedience: Look! 
I draw the sword myself; take it; and hit 
The innocent mansion of my love, my heart: 
Fear not : 'tis empty of all things, but grief : 
Thy master is not there; who was, indeed. 
The riches of it. Do his bidding; strike! 

The devoted attachment of Pisanio to his royal 
mistress, all through the piece, is one of those 
side-touches by which Shakespeare knew how to 
give additional effect to his characters. 

Cloten is odious;" but we must not overlook 

"The character of Cloten has been pronounced by 
some unnatural, by Others inconsistent, and by others 
obsolete. The following passage occurs in one of 
Miss Seward's letters, vol. iii. p. 246:— "It is curious 
that Shakespeare should, in so singular a character as 
Cloten, have given the exact prototype of a being whom 
I once knew. The unmeaning frown of countenance, 
the shuffling gait, the burst of voice, the bustling insig- 
nificance, the fever and ague fits of valour, the froward 
techiness, the unprincipled malice, and what is more 
curious, those occasional gleams of good sense amidst • 
the floating clouds of folly which generally darkened 
and confused the man's brain, and which, in the charac- 
ter of Cloten, we are apt to impute to a violation of 

unity in character ; but in the sometime Captain C I 

saw that the portrait of Cloten was not out of nature." 

222 Sbaheepeare's Ibetoines. 

the peculiar fitness and propriety of his charac- 
ter in connection with that of Imogen. He is 
precisely the kind of man who would be most 
intolerable to such a woman. He is a fool — so 
is Slender, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek: but the 
folly of Cloten is not only ridiculous, but hate- 
ful; it arises not so much from a want of un- 
derstanding as a total want of heart; it is the 
perversion of sentiment rather than the deficiency 
of intellect; he has occasional gleams of sense, 
but never a touch of feeling. Imogen describes 
herself not only as "sprighted with a fool." but 
as "frighted and anger'd worse." No other fool 
but Cloten — a compound of the booby and the vil- 
lain — could excite in such a mind as Imogen's 
the same mixture of terror, contempt, and ab- 
horrence. The stupid, obstinate malignity of 
Cloten, and the wicked machinations of the 
queen — 

A father cruel, and a step-dame false, 
A foolish suitor to a wedded lady- 
justify whatever might need excuse in the con- 
duct of Imogen — as her concealed marriage and 
her flight from her father's court — and serve to 
call out several of the most beautiful and striking 
parts of her character; particularly that decision 
and vivacity of temper, which in her harmonize 
so beautifully with exceeding delicacy, sweetness, 
and submission. 

In the scene with her detested suitor, there is 
at first a careless majesty of disdain which is 

Imogen. 223 

I am much sorry, sir. 
You put me to forget a lady's manners, 
By being so verbal ;" and learn now, for all. 
That I, which know my heart, do here pronounce. 
By th' very truth of it, I care not for you. 
And am so near the lack of charity, 
(T' accuse myself,) I hate you; which I had rather 
You felt, than make 't my boast. 

But when he dares to provoke her, by reviling 
the absent Posthumus, her indignation heightens 
her scorn, and her scorn sets a keener edge on 
her indignation. 


The contract you pretend with that base wretch, 
(One bred of alms, andfoster'd with cold dishes. 
With scraps o' the court:) it is no contract, — ^none. 


Profane fellow! 
Wert thou the son of Jupiter, and no more. 
But what thou art, besides, thou wert too base 
To be his groom; thou wert dignified enough. 
Even to the point of envy, if 'twere made 
Comparative for your virtues, to be styl'd 
The under-hangman of his kingdom; and hated 
For being preferr'd so well. 

He never can meet more mischance than come 
To be but nam'd of thee. His mean'st garment. 
That ever hath but clipp'd his body, is dearer 
In my respect than all the hairs about thee, 
Were they all made such men. 

"i.e. full of words. 

224 Sbaftespeate'g Iberofnes. 

One thing more must be particularly remarked, 
because it serves to individualize the character 
from the beginning to the end of the poem. We 
are constantly sensible that Imogen, besides be- 
ing a tender and devoted woman, is a princess 
and a beauty, at the same time that she is ever 
superior to her position and her external charms. 
There is, for instance, a certain airy majesty of 
deportment, a spirit of accustomed command, 
breaking out every now and then — the dignity, 
without the assumption, of rank and royal birth, 
which is apparent in the scene with Cloten and 
elsewhere. And we have not only a general im- 
pression that Imogen, like other heroines, is beau- 
tiful, but the peculiar style and character of her 
beauty is placed before us : we have an image 
of the most luxuriant loveliness combined with 
exceeding delicacy, and even fragility, of per- 
son, of the most refined elegance and the most 
exquisite modesty, set forth in one or two pas- 
sages of description ; as when lachimo is contem- 
plating her asleep : 

How bravely thou becom'st thy bed! fresh lily! 
And whiter than the sheets. 

'Tis her breathing that 
Perfumes the chamber thus : The flame o' the taper 
Bows toward her; and would underpeep her lids, 
To see the enclosed lights, now canopied 
Under these windows: white and azure, lac'd 
With blue of heaven's own tinct ! 

The preservation of her feminine character un- 
der her masculine attire, her delicacy, her mod- 

Ifmoflcn. 225 

esty, and her timidity, are managed with the same 
perfect consistency and unconscious grace as in 
Viola. And we "must not forget that her "neat 
cookery," which is so prettily eulogized by Gui- 
derius — 

He cut our roots in characters, 

And sauc'd our broths, as Juno had been sick, 

And he her dieter — 

formed part of the education of a princess in those 
remote times. 

Few reflections of a general nature are put into 
the mouth of Imogen ; and what she says is more 
remarkable for sense, truth, and tender feeling, 
than for wit, or wisdom, or power of imagina- 
tion. The following little touch of poetry re- 
minds us of Juliet : 

Ere I could 
Give him that parting kiss, which I had set 
Between two charming words, come in my father. 
And, like the tyrannous breathing of the north, 
Shakes all our buds from growing. 

Her exclamation on opening her husband's let- 
ter reminds us of the profound and thoughtful 
tenderness of Helen : 

O! learn'd indeed were that astronomer. 

That knew the stars, as I his characters; ' 

He'd lay the future open. 

The following are more in the manner of Isa- 

226 Sbaftespeate's lBero(ncs. 

Most miserable 
Is the desire that's glorious : Bless'd be those, 
How mean soe'er, that have their honest wills. 
Which seasons comfort. 

Against self-slaughter 
There is a prohibition so divine. 
That cravens my weak hand. 

Thus may poor fools 
Believe false teachers ; though those that are betray'd 
Do feel the treason sharply, yet the traitor 
Stands in worse case of woe. 

Are we not brothers ? 

So man and man should be; 
But clay and clay differs in dignity. 
Whose dust is both alike. 

Will poor folks lie 
That have afflictions on them ; knowing 'tis 
A punishment, or trial? Yes: no wonder. 
When rich ones scarce tell true : To lapse in fulness 
Is sorer, than to lie for need; and falsehood 
Is worse in kings, than beggars. 

The sentence which follows, and which I be- 
lieve has become proverbial, has much of the 
manner of Portia, both in the thought and the 
expression : 

Hath Britain all the sun that shines ? Day, night. 
Are they not but in Britain ? I' the world's volume 
Our Britain seems as of it, but not in 't; 
In a great pool, a swan's nest ; pr'ythee, think 
There's livers out of Britain. 

fmogen. 227 

The catastrophe of this play has been much ad- 
mired for the peculiar skill with which all the va- 
rious threads of interest are gathered together at 
last, and entwined with the destiny of Imogen. 
It may be added, that one of its chief beauties 
is the manner in which the character of Imogen 
is not only preserved, but rises upon us to the 
conclusion with added grace: her instantaneous 
forgiveness of her husband before he even asks 
it, when she flings herself at once into his arms — 

Why did you throw your wedded lady from you? — 

and her magnanimous reply to her father, when 
he tells her that by the discovery of her two broth- 
ers she has lost a kingdom — 

No ; I have gain'd two worlds by it — 

clothing a noble sentiment in a noble image — 
give the finishing touches of excellence to this 
most enchanting portrait. 

On the whole, Imogen is a lovely compound 
of goodness, truth, and affection, with just so 
much of passion, and intellect, and poetry, as 
serve to lend to the picture that power and glow- 
ing richness of effect which it would otherwise 
have wanted; and of her it might be said, if we 
could condescend to quote from any other poet 
with Shakespeare open before us, that "her per- 
son was a paradise, and her soul the cherub to 
guard it."" 


228 Sbafiespeate's f>erofne0. 


There is in the beauty of Cordelia's charac-, 
ter an effect too sacred for words, and almost too 
deep for tears; vyithin her heart is a fs^thomless^ 
well of purest affection,^ut_its_ waters sleep in 
silence qnd. obscurity,— never failmg iri~tfieir 
depth and never overflowing in their fulness. 
Everything in her seems to lie beyond our view, 
and aifects us in "a'manrief which "we feel rather 
than perceive. The character appears to have 
no surface, no salient points upon which the fancy 
can readily_ seize : there is little external develop- 
ment of intellect, less, of passion, and still less 
of imagination. It is completely made out in the 
course ol a few scenes, and we are surprised to 
find that in those few scenes there is matter for 
a life of reflection, and materials enough for 
twenty heroines. If "Lear" be the grandest of 
Shakespeare's tragedies, Cordelia in herself, as 
a human being governed by the purest and holiest 
impulses and motives, the most refined from all 
dross of selfishness and passion, approaches near 
to perfection; and, in her adaptation of a dra- 
matic personage to a determinate plan of action, 
may be pronounced altogether perfect. The char- 
acter, to speak of it critically as a poetical concep- 
tion, is not, however, to be comprehended at once, 
or easily; and in the same manner Cordelia, as 

OotdeUa. 229 

a woman, is one whom we must nave loved before 
we could have known, and known her long be- 
fore we could have known her truly. 

Most people, I believe, have heard the story 
of the young German artist Miiller, who, while 
employed in copying and engraving Raffaelle's 
Madonna del Sisto, was so penetrated by its celes- 
tial beauty, so distrusted his own power to do jus- 
tice to it, that between admiration and despair 
he fell into a sadness ; thence, through the usual 
gradations, into a melancholy; thence into mad- 
ness; and died just as he had put the finishing 
stroke to his own matchless work, which had oc- 
cupied him for eight years. With some slight 
tinge of this concentrated kind of enthusiasm I 
have learned to contemplate the character of Cor- 
delia; I have looked into it till the revelation of 
its hidden beauty, and an intense feeling of the 
wonderful genius which created it, have filled me 
at once with delight and despair. 

Like poor Miiller, but with more reason, I do 
despair of ever conveying, through a different 
and inferior medium, the impression made on my 
own mind to the mind of another. 

Schlegel, the most eloquent of critics, concludes 
his remarks on "King Lear" with these words: 
"Of the heavenly beauty of soul of Cordelia I 
will not venture to speak." Now if I attempt 
what Schlegel and others have left undone, it 
is because I feel that this general acknowledg- 
ment of her excellence can neither satisfy those 
who have studied the character, nor convey a 
just conception of it to the mere reader. Amid 

230 Sbalfteepeace'g Iberofnes. 

the awful, the overpowering interest of the story, 
amid the terrible convulsions of passion and suf- 
fering, and pictures of moral and physical wretch- 
edness which harrow up the soul, the tender in- 
fluence of Cordelia, like that of a celestial vis- 
itant, is felt and acknowledged without being 
quite understood. Like a soft star that shines 
for a moment from behind a stormy cloud, and 
the next is swallowed up in tempest and dark- 
ness, the impression it leaves is beautiful and 
deep, but vague. Speak of Cordelia to a critic, 
or to a general reader, all agree in the beauty of 
the portrait, for all must feel it; but when we 
come to details, I have heard more various and 
opposite opinions relative to her than any other 
of Shakespeare's characters — a proof of what I 
have advanced in the first instance, that, from 
the simplicity with which the character is dra- 
matically treated, and the small space it occupies, 
few are aware of its internal power or its won- 
derful depth of purpose. 

It appears to me that the whole character rests 
upon the two sublimest principles of human ac- 
tion — the love of truth and the sense of duty; 
but these, when they stand alone (as in the "An- 
tigone"), are apt to strike us as severe and cold. 
Shakespeare has, therefore, wreathed them round 
with the dearest attributes of our feminine na- 
ture, the power of feeUng and inspiring affection. 
The first part of the play shows us how Corde- 
lia is loved, the second part how she can lojre. 
To her father she is the object of a secret pref- 
emce; his agony at her supposed unkindness 

Gotdelia. 231 

draws from him the confession that he had loved 
her most, and "thought to set his rest on her kind 
nursery." Till then she had been "his best ob- 
ject, the argument of his praise, balm of his age, 
most best, most dearest!" The faithful and 
worthy Kent is ready to brave death and exile 
in her defence; and afterwards a further impres- 
sion of her benign sweetness is conveyed in a 
simple and beautiful manner, when we are told 
that "since the Lady Cordelia went to France, 
her father's poor fool had much pined away." 
We have her sensibility "when patience and sor- 
row strove which should express her goodliest;" 
and all her filial tenderness when she commits her 
poor father to the care of the physician, when she 
hangs over him as he is sleeping, and kisses him 
as she contemplates the wreck of grief and maj- 
esty : — 

O my dear father! Restoration hang 

Its medicine on my lips : and let this kiss 

Repair those violent harms, that my two sisters 

Have in thy reverence made! 

Had you not been their father, these white flakes 

Had challenged pity of them! Was this a face 

To be exposed against the warring winds? 

To stand against the deep dread-bolted thunder? 

In the most terrible and nimble stroke 

Of quick cross-lightning? to watch (poor perdu!) 

With this thin helm?— Mine enemy's dog. 

Though he had bit me, should have stood that night 

Against my fire. 

Her mild magnanimity shines out in her fare- 
well to her sisters, of whose real character she 
is perfectly aware : — 

232 SbaRcspcare's "Iberoines. 

The jewels of our father! with wash'd eyes 

Cordelia leaves you! I know you what you arc. 

And, like a sister, am most loath to call 

Your faults as they are named. Use well our father ; 

To your professed bosoms I commit him. 

But yet, alas I stood I within his grace, 

I would prefer him to a better place: 

So farewell to you both. 


Prescribe not us our duties ! 

The modest pride with which she replies to 
the Duke of Burgundy is admirable: this whole 
passage is too illustrative of the peculiar charac- 
ter of Cordelia, as well as too exquisite, to be 
mutilated : — 

I yet beseech your majesty 
(If, for I want that glib' and oily art, 
To speak and purpose not ; since what I well intend, 
I'll do 't before I speak), that you make known. 
It is no vicious blot, nor other foulness. 
No unchaste action or dishonour'd step. 
That hath depriv'd me of your grace and favour: 
But even for want of that, for which I am richer; 
A still-soliciting eye, and such a tongue 
That I am glad I have not, tho' not to have it 
Hath lost me in your liking. 

Better thou 
Hadst not been born, than not to have pleas'd me 


Is it but this? a tardiness in nature. 

That often leaves the history unspoke 

That it intends to do? — My lord of Burgundy, 

CotOelia. 233 

What say you to the lady? Love is not love, 
When it is mingled with respects that stand 
Aloof from th' entire point. Will you have her? 
She is herself a dowry. 


Royal Lear, 
Give but that portion which yourself propos'd. 
And here I take Cordelia by the hand. 
Duchess of Burgundy. 


Nothing: I have sworn; I am firm. 


I am sorry, then, you have so lost a father. 
That you must lose a husband. 


Peace be with Burgundy! 
Since that respects of fortune are his love, 
I shall not be his wife. 


Fairest Cordelia ! that art most rich, being poor ; 
Most choice, forsaken; and most lov'd, despis'd! 
Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon. 

She takes up arms, "not for ambition, but a 
dear father's right." In her speech, after her 
defeat, we have calm fortitude and elevation of 
soul, arising from the consciousness of duty, and 
lifting her above all consideration of self. She 
observes — 

We are not the first. 
Who, with best meaning, have incurr'd the worst! 

She thinks and fears only for her father : — 

234 SbaRespearc'tJ •fceroincs. 

For thee, oppressed king, am I cast down ; 
Myself could else out-frown false fortune's frown. 

To complete the picture, her very voice is char- 
acteristic, "ever soft, gentle, and low; an excel- 
lent thing in woman." 

But it will be said that the qualities here ex- 
emplified — as sensibility, gentleness, magnanimity, 
fortitude, generous affection — are qualities which 
belong, in their perfection, to others of Shake- 
speare's characters ; to Imogen, for instance, who 
unites them all : and yet Imogen and Cordelia are 
wholly unlike each other. Even though we should 
reverse their situations, and give to Imogen the 
filial devotion of Cordelia, and to Cordelia the 
conjugal virtues of Imogen, still they would re- 
main perfectly distinct as women. What is it, 
then, which lends to Cordelia that peculiar and 
individual truth of character which distinguishes 
her from every other human being? 

It is a natural reserve, a tardiness of disposi- 
tion, "which often leaves the history unspoke 
which it intends to do ;" a subdued quietness of 
deportment and expression, a veiled shyness 
thrown over all her emotions, her language and 
her manner, making the outward demonstration 
invariably fall short of what we know to be the 
feeling within. Not only is the portrait singu- 
larly beautiful and interesting in itself, but the 
conduct of Cordelia, and the part which she bears 
in the beginning of the story, is rendered con- 
sistent and natural by the wonderful truth and 
delicacy with which this peculiar disposition is 
sustained throughout the play. 

CotOelfa. 235 

In early youth, and more particularly if we are 
gifted with a lively imagination, such a charac- 
ter as that of Cordelia is calculated above every 
other to impress and captivate us. Anything like 
mystery, anything withheld or withdrawn from 
our notice, seizes on our fancy by awakening our 
curiosity. Then we are won more by what we 
half perceive and half create, than by what is 
openly expressed and freely bestowed. But this 
feeling is a part of our young life: when time 
and years have chilled us, when we can no longer " 
afford to send our souls abroad, nor from our 
own superfluity of life and sensibility spare the 
materials out of which we build a shrine for our 
idol, then do we seek, we ask, we thirst for that 
warmth of frank, confiding tenderness, which re- 
vives in us the withered affections and feelings, 
buried but not dead. Then the excess of love, 
is welcomed, not repelled: it is gracious to us 
as the sun and dew to the seared and riven trunk, 
with its few green leaves. Lear is old — "four- 
score and upwards" — but we see what he has 
been in former days : the ardent passions of youth 
have turned to rashness and wilfulness : he is long . 
passed that age when we are more blessed in 
what we bestow than in what we receive. When 
he says to his daughters, "I gave ye all !" we feel 
that he requires all in return, with a jealous, rest- 
less, exacting affection which defeats its own . 
wishes. How many such are there in the world ! 
How many to sympathize with the fiery, fond 
old man, when he shrinks, as if petrified, from 
Cordelia's quiet, calm reply! 

236 Sbaiiespeare's ibetoines. 


Now our joy. 
Although our last and least, . . . 

What can you say, to draw 

A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak I 


Nothing, my lord. 






Nothing can come of nothing: speak again I 


Unhappy that I am ! I cannot heave 

My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty 

According to my bond ; nor more, nor less. 

Now this is perfectly natural. Cordelia has 
penetrated the vile characters of her sisters. Is 
it not obvious that in proportion as her own mind 
is pure and guileless, she must be disgusted with 
their gross hypocrisy and exaggeration, their 
empty protestations, their "plaited cunning;" and 
would retire from all competition with what she 
so disdains and abhors, — even into the opposite 
extreme? In such a case, as she says herself, 

What shall Cordelia do? — ^love and 'be silent? 

For the very expressions of Lear — 

What can you say, to draw 
A third more opulent than your sisters? 

CorOeHa. 237 

are enough to strike dtamb for ever a generous, 
delicate, but shy disposition, such as is Corde- 
lia's, by holding out a bribe for professions. 

If Cordelia were not thus portrayed, this de- 
liberate coolness would strike us as verging on 
harshness or obstinacy ; but it is beautifully repre- 
sented as a certain modification of character, the 
necessary result of feelings habitually, if not nat- 
urally, repressed : and through the whole play we 
trace the same peculiar and individual disposi- 
tion — the same absence of all display — ^the same 
sobriety of speech veiling the most profound af- 
fections — ^the same quiet steadiness of purpose — 
the same shrinking from all exhibition of emo- 

"Tous let sentiments naturels ont leur pudeur" 
was a viva voce observation of Mme. de Stael, 
when disgusted by the sentimental affection of 
her imitators. This "pudeur," carried to an ex- 
cess, appears to me the peculiar characteristic of 
Cordelia. Thus, in the description of her deport- 
ment when she receives the letter of the Earl 
of Kent, informing her of the cruelty of her sis- 
ters and the wretched condition of Lear, we seem 
to have her before us : 


Did your letters pierce the queen to any demonstra- 
tion of grief? 


Ay, sir, she took them, read them in my presence; 
And now and then an ample tear trill'd down 
Her delicate cheek. It seem'd, she was a queen 
Over her passion; who, most rebel-like, 
Sought to be king o'er her. 

238 Sbaftespeare's IBecoincs. 


O, then it mov'd her? 


Not to a rage 

Faith, once, or twice, she heav'd the name of "father," 

Pantingly forth, as if it press'd her heart; 

Cried, Sisters! sisters' Shame of ladies! Sisierst 

What? i' the storm! i' the night? 

Let pity not he believed! There she shook 

The holy water from her heavenly eyes. 

Then away she started, 
To deal with grief alone. 

Here the last line — ^the image brought before 
us of Cordelia starting away from observation, 
"to deal with grief alone" — is as exquisitely beau- 
tiful as it is characteristic. 

But all the passages hitherto quoted must yield 
in beauty and power to that scene, in which her 
poor father recognizes her, and in the intervals 
of distraction asks forgiveness of his wronged 
child. Xk?AyMl3M.^t.b9S.aaii,.siraplicityof Cor- 
delia's charactei:,,iier quiet but intense feeling, 
the misery and humiliation of the bewildered old 
man, are brought before us in so few words, 
and at the same time sustained with such a deep 
intuitive knowledge of the innermost workings 
of the human he^rt, that as there is nothing sur- 
passing this scene in Shakespeare himself, so 
there is nothing that can be compared to it in 
any other writer. 


How does my royal lord? How fares your majesty? 

CorOella. ^9 


You do me wrong to take me out o' the gravfe. 
Thou art a soul in bliss ; but I am bound/ 
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tealrs 
Do scald like molten lead. 


, "'Sir, do you know me? 
You are a spirit, I know: wit en did you die? 


Still, still, far wide! ' 


He's scarce awake : let him alone awhile. 


Where have I been ? — Where am I ? — Fair daylight !— 
I am mightily abus'd. — I should even die with pity 
To see another thus. — I know not what to say. — 
I will not swear these are my hands: — diet's see; 
I feel this pin prick. Would I were assur'd 
Of my condition! 


O ! look upon me, sir, 
And hold your hands in benediction o'er me :— 
No, sir, you must not kneel. 


Pray do not mock me : 
I am a very foolish, fond old man, 
Fourscore and upward ; 

Not an hour more, nor less ; and, to deal plainly, 
I fear, I am not in my perfect mind. 
Methinks I should know you, and know this man; 
Yet I am doubtful : for I am mainly ignorant 
What place this is ; and all the skill I have 

24& Sbaftespcarc's tbetoinee. 

Remembers not these garments; nor I know not 
Where I did lodge last night. Do not laugh at me; 
For, a& I am a man, I think this lady 
iTo be my child Cordelia. 


And so I am, I ami 


Be your tears wet? '-es, 'faith. I pray weep not: 
If you have poison fpr me, I will drink it 
I know, you do not^iove me; for your sisters 
Have, as I do renumber, done me wrong: 
You have some cause, they have not. 


No cause, no cause ! 

As we do not estimate Cordelia's affection for 
her father by the coldness of her language, so 
neither should we measure her indignation against 
her sisters by the mildness of her expressions. 
What, in fact, can be more eloquently significant, 
and at the same time more characteristic of Cor- 
delia, than the single line when she and her fa- 
ther are conveyed to their prison : 

Shall we not see these daughters and these sisters? 

The irony here is' so bitter and intense, and at 
the same time so quiet, so feminine, so digni- 
fied in the expression, that who but Cordelia 
would have uttered it in the same manner, or 
would have condensed such ample meaning into 
so few and simple words ? 

We lose sight of Cordelia during the whole 
of the second and third and a great part of the 

CorOelfa. 241 

fourth act, but towards the conclusion she re- 
appears. Just as our sense of human misery and 
wickedness, being carried to its extreme height, 
becomes nearly intolerable, "like an engine 
wrenching our frame of nature from its fixed 
place," then, like a redeeming angel, she descends 
to mingle in the scene, "loosening the springs 
of pity in our eyes," and relieving the impression 
of pain and terror by those of admiration and 
a tender pleasure. For the catastrophe, it is in- 
deed terrible! wondrous terrible! When Lear 
enters with Cordelia dead in his arms, compas- 
sion and awe so seize on all our faculties, that 
we are left only to silence and to tears. But if 
I might judge from my own sensations, the catas- 
trophe of Lear is not so overwhelming as the 
catastrophe of Othello. We do not turn away 
with the same feeling of absolute unmitigated de- 
spair. Cordelia is a saint re ady pre pared for 
heaven — our earth is not good enough "for her; 
and'Le'arT^O who, after sufferings and tortures 
"such aslKis, would wish to see his life prolonged? 
What! replace a sceptre in that shaking hand? 
— a crown upon that old grey head, on which the 
tempest had poured in its wrath, in which the 
deep dread-bolted thunders and the winged light- 
nings had spent their fury? O never, never! 

Let him pass! he hates him 

That would, upon the rack of this rough world. 

Stretch him out longer. 

In the story of King Lear and his three daugh- 
ters, as it is related in the "delectable and mel- 

242 Sbaheepeate'e •fccroinca. 

lifluous" romance of Perceforest, and in the 
Chronicle of Geoffrey of Monmouth, the conclu- 
sion is fortunate. Cordelia defeats her sisters, 
and replaces her father on his throne. Spenser, 
in his version of the story, has followed these au- 
thorities. Shakespeare has preferred the catas- 
trophe of the old ballad, founded apparently on 
some lost tradition. I suppose it is by way of 
amending his errors, and bringing back this dar- 
ing innovator to sober history, that it has been, 
thought fit to alter the play of "Lear" for the 
stage, as they have altered Romeo and Juliet; 
they have converted the seraph-like Cordelia into 
a puling love heroine, and sent her off victorious 
at the end of the play — exit with drums and col- 
ors flying — to be married to Edgar. Now any- 
thing more absurd, more discordant with all our 
previous impressions, and with the characters as 
unfolded to us, can hardly be imagined. "I can- 
not conceive," says Schlegel, "what ideas of art 
and dramatic connection those persons have who 
suppose we can at pleasure tack a double con- 
clusion to a tragedy — a melancholy one for hard- 
hearted spectators, and a merry one for those of. 
softer mould." The fierce manners depicted in. 
this play, the extremes of virtue and vice in the 
persons, belong to the remote period of the story.^° 
There is no attempt at character in the old nar- 

" King Lear may be supposed to have lived about one 
thousand years before the Christian era, being the 
fourth or fifth in descent from King Brut, the great- 
grandson of ^neas, and the fabulous founder of the 
kingdom of Britain. 

Cot&elia. 243 

ratives; Regan and Goneril are monsters of in- 
gratitude, and Cordelia merely distinguished by 
her filial piety : whereas, in Shakespeare, this filial 
piety is an affection quite distinct from the quali- 
ties which serve to individualize the human be- 
ing; we have .aperc'eption of innate character 
agail from all acadental ^arcumstoice:" we 'see 
that if Cordelia had never known l&er father, 
had never been rejected from his love, had never 
been a born princess or a crowned queen, she 
would not have been less Cordelia, less distinctly 
herself — that is, _a woman of a steady jmind,.J>f 
calm„^t„deep affections, of inflexible truth, of 
few words,_and,_gfj]eseryed_deportm^^ 

As to "Regan and Goneril — "tigers, not daugh- 
ters" — we might wish to regard them as mere 
hateful chimeras, impossible as they are detest- 
able; but unfortunately there was once a Tullia. 
I know not where to look for the prototype of 
Cordelia: there was a Julia Alpinula, the young 
priestess of Aventicum,^* who, unable to save her 
father's life by the sacrifice of her own, died with 
him — "infelix patris infelix proles;" but this is 
all we know of her. There was the Roman daugh- 
ter, too. I remember seeing, at Genoa, Guido's 
"Pieta Romana," in which the expression of the 
female bending over the aged parent, who feeds 
from her bosom, is perfect, — ^but it is not a Cor- 
delia : only Raffaelle could have painted Cordelia. 

But the character which at once suggests it- 

"She is commemorated by Lord Byron. Vide 
"Childe Harold," Canto iii. 

244 SMMspcute's f)ecotne0. 

self in. comparison with Cordelia, as the heroine 
of filial tenderness and piety, is certainly the An- 
tigone of Sophocles. As poetical conceptions, 
they rest on the same basis : they are both pure 
gJ)stractions of truth, piety, and natural affection ; 
and in^otinove^ ¥s" a passiohTls Kept enEre^^t 
oT sight: for though the womanly character is 
sustained by making them the objects of devoted 
attachment, yet to have portrayed them as influ- 
enced by passion would have destroyed that unity 
of purpose and feeling which is one source of 
power, and, besides, have disturbed that serene 
purity and grandeur of soul which equally distin- 
guishes both heroines. The spirit, however, in 
which the two characters is conceived is as dif- 
ferent as possible; and we must not fail to re- 
mark that Antigone, who plays a principal part 
in two fine tragedies, and is distinctly and com- 
pletely made out, is considered as a masterpiece, 
the very triumph of the ancient classical drama; 
whereas there are many among Shakespeare's 
characters which are equal to Cordelia as dra- 
matic conceptions, and superior to her in finishing 
of outline, as well as in the richness of the poet- 
ical coloring. 

When CEdipus, pursued by the vengeance of 
the gods, deprived of sight by his own mad act, 
and driven from Thebes by his subjects and his 
sons, wanders forth, abject and forlorn, he is sup- 
ported by his daughter Antigone, who leads him 
from city to city, begs for him, and pleads for him 
against the harsh, rude men, who, struck more 
by his guilt than his misery, would drive him from 

Cotdelfa. 245 

his last asylum. In the opening of the "CEdipus 
Coloneus," where the wretched old man appears 
leaning on his child, and seats himself in the con- 
secrated Grove of the Furies, the picture pre- 
sented to us is wonderfully solemn and beautiful. 
The patient, duteous tenderness of Antigone ; the 
scene in which she pleads for her brother Poly- 
nices, and supplicates her father to receive his of- 
fending son : her remonstance to Polynices, when 
she entreats him not to carry the threatened war 
into his native country, are finely and powerfully 
delineated ; and in her lamentation over CEdipus, 
when he perishes in the mysterious grove, there 
is a pathetic beauty, apparent even through the 
stififness of the translation : — 

Alas! I only wish'd I might have died 

With my poor father; wherefore should I ask 

For longer life? 

O, I was fond of misery with him; 

E'en what was most unlovely grew beloved 

When he was with me. O my dearest father, 

Beneath the earth now in deep darkness hid, 

Worn as thou wert with age, to me thou still 

Wert dear, and shall be ever. 

. . . Even as he wished he died. 

In a strange land — for such was his desire— 

A shady turf covered his lifeless limbs. 

Nor unlamented fell ! for, O, these eyes, 

My father, still shall weep for thee, nor time 

E'er blot thee from my memory. 

The filial piety of Antigone is the most aflfect- 
ing part of the tragedy of "CEdipus Coloneus :" 
her sisterly affection, and her heroic self-devo- 
tion to a religious duty, form the plot of the trag- . 

246 SbaKespeare's Ibetoines. 

edy called by her name. When her two brothers, 
Eteocles and Polynices, had slain each other be- 
fore the walls of Thebes, Creon issued an edict 
forbidding the rights of sepulture to Polynices 
(as the invader of his country), and awarding 
instant death to those who should dare to bury 
him. We know the importance which the an- 
cients attached to the funeral obsequies, as alone 
securing their admission into the Elysian fields. 
Antigone, upon hearing the law of Creon, which 
thus carried vengeance beyond the grave, enters 
in the first scene, announcing her fixed resolution 
to brave the threatened punishment. Her sis- 
ter Ismene shrinks from sharing the peril of such 
an undertaking, and endeavors to dissuade her 
from it, on which Antigone replies, — 

Wert thou to proffer what I do not ask — 

Thy poor assistance — I would scorn it now; 

Act as thou wilt, I'll bury him myself : 

Let me perform but that, and death is welcome. 

I'll do the pious deed, and lay me down 

By my dear brother ; loving and beloved. 

We'll rest together. 

She proceeds to execute her generous purpose: 
she covers with earth the mangled corse of Poly- 
nices, pours over it the accustomed libations, is 
detected in her pious office, and after nobly de- 
fending her conduct, is led to death by command 
of the tyrant. Her sister Ismene, struck with 
shame and remorse, now comes forward to ac- 
cuse herself as a partaker in the offence, and share 
her sister's punishment; but Antigone sternly 

Cot&cKa. 247 

and scornfully rejects her, and after pd»iring forth 
a beautiful lamentation on the misery of perish- 
ing "without the nuptial song— a virgin and a 
slave"— she dies d I' antique; she strangles her- 
self to avoid a lingering death. 

Hemon, the son of Creon, unable to save her 
li^e, kills himself upon her grave: but through- 
out the whole tragedy we are left in doubt 
whether Antigone does or does not return the 
affection of this devoted lover. 

Thus it will be seen that in the "Antigone" 
there is a great deal of what may be called the 
eflfect of situation, as well as a great deal of po- 
etry and character: she says the most beauti- 
ful things in the world, performs the most heroic 
actions, and all her words and actions are so 
placed before us as to command our admiration. 
According to the classical ideas of virtue and 
heroism, the character is sublime, and in the de- 
lineation there is a severe simplicity mingled with 
its Grecian grace, a unity, a grandeur, an ele- 
gance, which appeal to our taste and our under- 
standing, while they fill and exalt the imagina- 
tion. But in Cor delia it igi not tl^f external ml-" 
oring or form, it is not what she says or..dae&. I 
buFwiat"lsKe is in herselfTwhat shefe ela,^thM3lcSt ' 
and suffers, which continiugjy^jiwa^il.„,oui:.,.5y]iiaj 
pathy and^^^^erest™*The heroism of Cordelia isj 
more passive and tender — ^it melts' into our heart ; 
and in the veiled loveliness and unostentatious 
delicacy of her character there is an effect more 
profound and artless, if it be less striking and 
less elaborate, than in the Grecian heroine. To 

248 SbaTtespeate's f>erofnes. 

Antigone we give our admiration, to Cordelia 
our tears. Antigone stands before us in her aus- 
tere and statue-like beauty, like one of the mar- 
bles of the Partheon. If Cordelia remind us of 
anything on earth, it is of one of the Madonnas 
in the old Italian pictures, "with downcast eyes 
beneath th' almighty dove:" and as that heavenly 
form is connected with our human sympathies 
only by the expression of maternal tenderness or 
maternal sorrow, even so Cordelia would be al- 
most too angelic were she not linked to our 
earthly feelings, bound to our very hearts, by 
her filial love, her wrongs, her suiferings, and 
her tears. 

From the Painting by Hans Makart 

Shakespeare's Heroines 

Cleopatra. 249 



I CANNOT agree with one of the most philosoph- 
ical of Shakespeare's critics, who has asserted 
"that the actual truth of particular events, in pro- 
portion as we are conscious of it, is a drawback 
on the pleasure as well as the dignity of tragedy." 
If this observation applies at all, it is equally just 
with regard to characters ; and in either case can 
we admit it? The reverence and the simpleness 
of heart with which Shakespeare has treated the 
received and admitted truths of history — I mean 
according to the imperfect knowledge of his time 
— is admirable : his inaccuracies are few ; his gen- 
eral accuracy, allowing for the distinction between 
the narrative and the dramatic form, is acknowl- 
edged to be wonderful. He did not steal the 
precious material from the treasury of History 
to debase its purity, new-stamp it arbitrarily with 
eifigies and legends of his own devising, and 
then attempt to pass it current, like Dryden, Ra- 
cine, and the rest of those poetical coiners: he 
only rubbed off the rust, purified and brightened 
it, so that History herself has been known to re- 
ceive it back as sterling. 

Truth, wherever manifested, should 6e sacred : 

250 Sbaftespeate's Ibetofnes. 

so Shakespeare deemed, and laid no profane hand 
upon her altars. But Tragedy, majestic tragedy, 
is worthy- to stand before the sanctuary of Truth, 
and to be the priestess of her oracles. "What- 
ever in religion is holy and sublime, in virtue 
amiable or grave, whatsoever hath passion or ad- 
miration in all the changes of that which is called 
fortune from without, or the wily subtleties and 
refluxes of man's thought from within ;"'^ what- 
ever is pitiful in the weakness, sublime in the 
strength, or terrible in the perversion of human 
intellect, — these are the domain of Tragedy. Sybil 
and Muse at once, she holds aloft the book of 
human fate, and is the interpreter of its myste- 
ries. It is not, then, making a mock of the se- 
rious sorrows of real life, nor of those human be- 
ings who lived, suffered, and acted upon this 
earth, to array them in her rich and stately robes, 
and present them before us as powers evoked 
from dust and darkness, to awaken the generous 
sympathies, the terror or the pity, of mankind. 
It does not add to the pain, as far as tragedy is 
a source of emotion, that the wrongs and suffer- . 
ings represented, the guilt of Lady Macbeth, the 
despair of Constance, the arts of Cleopatra, and 
the distresses of Katherine, had a real existence; 
but it adds infinitely to the moral effect, as a sub- 
ject of contemplation and a lesson of conduct.^ 

' Maton. 

' "That the treachery of King John, the death of Ar- 
thur, and the grief of Constance, had a real truth in 
history, sharpens the sense of pain, while it hangs a 
leaden weight on the heart and the imagination. Some- 

Cleopatra. 251 

I shall be able to illustrate these observations 
more fully in the course of this section, in whicK 
we will consider those characters which are drawn 
from history ; and first, Cleopatra. 

Of all Shakespeare's female characters, Miran- 
da and Cleopatra appear to me the most wonder- 
ful. The first, unequalled as a poetic concep- 
tion : the latter miraculous as a work of art. If 
We could make a regular classification of his char- 
acters, these would form the two extremes of sim- 
plicity and complexity ; and all his other charac- 
. ters would be found to fill up some shade or grada- 
tion between these two. 

Great crimes, springing from high passions, 
grafted on high qualities, are the legitimate source 
of tragic poetry. But to make the extreme of 
littleness produce an effect like grandeur — ^to 
make the excess of frailty produce an effect like 
power — to heap up together all that is most un- 
substantial, frivolous, vain, contemptible, and va- 
riable, till the worthlessness be lost in the mag- 
nitude, and a sense of the sublime spring from 
the very elements of littleness — to do this be- 
longed only to Shakespeare, that worker of mir- 
acles. Cleopatra is a brilliant antithesis, a com- 
pound of contradictions, of all that we most hate 
with what we most admire'. The whole character 

thing whispers us that we have no right to make a 
mock of calamities like these, or turn the truth of 
things into the puppet and plaything of our fancies." — 
See "Oiaracters of Shakespeare's Plays." To consider 
thus is not to consider too deeply, but not deq>Iy 

252 SbaRespeate's tjctolnee, 

is the triumph of the external over the innate; 
and yet, like one of her country's hieroglyphics, 
though she present at first view a splendid and 
perplexing anomaly, there is deep meaning and 
wondrous skill in the apparent enigma, when we 
come to analyze and decipher it. But how are we 
to arrive at the solution of this glorious riddle, 
whose dazzling complexity continually mocks and 
eludes us ? What is most astonishing in the char- 
acter of Cleopatra is its antithetical construction 
— its consistent inconsistency, if I may use such 
an expression — which renders it quite impossi- 
ble to reduce it to any elementary principles. It 
will, perhaps, be found, on the whole, that vanity 
and the love of p6wer predominate; but I dare 
not say it is so, for these qualities and a hun- 
dred others mingle into each other, and shift, and 
change, and glance away, like the colors in a 
peacock's train. 

In some others of Shakespeare's female char- 
acters also remarkable for their complexity (Por- 
tia and Juliet, for instance), we are struck with 
the delightful sense of harmony in the midst of ' 
contrast, so that the idea of unity and simplicity 
of effect is produced in the midst of variety ; but 
in Cleopatra it is the absence of unity and sim- 
plicity which strikes us; the impression is that 
of perpetual and irreconcilable contrast. The 
continual approximation of whatever is most op- ■ 
posite in character, in situation, in sentiment, . 
would be fatiguing, were it not so perfectly nat- 
ural: the woman herself would be distracting, 
if she were not so enchanting. 

I Cleopatca. 253 

I have Aot the slightest doubt that Shake- 
speare's Cleopatra is the real historical Cleopatra 
— ^the "rai* Egyptian" — individualized and placed 
before us.| Her mental accomplishments, her un- 
equalled grace, her woman's wit and woman's 
wiles, her irresistible allurements, her starts of 
irregular grandeur, her bursts of ungovernable 
temper, her vivacity of imagination, her petulant 
caprice, her fickleness and her falsehood, her ten- 
derness and her truth, her childish susceptibility 
to flattery, her magnificent spirit, her royal pride, 
the gorgeous eastern coloring of the character 
— all these contradictory elements has Shaken 
speare seized, mingled them in their extremes, 
and fused them into one brilliant impersonation 
of classical elegance. Oriental voluptuousness, and 
gipsy sorcery. 

What better proof can we have of the indivi3^ 
ual truth of the character than the admissijgg; 
that Shakespeare's Cleopatra produces exactly the 
same effect on us that is recorded of the real Cleo- 
patra? She dazzles our faculties, perplexes our 
judgment, bewilders and bewitches our fancy; 
from the beginning to the end of the drama we 
are conscious of a kind of fascination againsL 
which our moral sense rebels, but from which 
there is no escape. The epithets applied to her 
perpetually by Antony and others confirm this 
impression ; "enchanting queen !" — "witch" — 
"spell"— "great fairy"— "cockatrice"— "serpent of 
old Nile" — "thou grave' charm !" are only a few 

• Grave, in the sense of mighty or potent. 

254 Sbafteapeare's Ibetolnee. 

of them: and who does not know by heart the 
famous quotations in which this Egyptian Circe 
is described, with all her infinite seductions? — 

Fie! wrangling queen! 
Whom every thing becomes, to chide, to laugh. 
To weep ; whose every passion fully strives 
To make itself, in thee, fair and admir'd. 

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale 
Her infinite variety: . . . 

.... for vilest things 
Become themselves in her. 

And the pungent irony of Enobarbus has well 
exposed her feminine arts, when he says, on the 
occasion of Antony's intended departure, 

Cleapotra, catching but the least noise of this, dies 
instantly; I have seen her die twenty times upon far 
IgSorer moment. 


She is cunning past man's thought. 


Alack, sir, no! her passions are made of nothing but 
the finest part of pure love. We cannot call her winds 
and waters sighs and tears; they are greater storms 
and tempests than almanacks can report: this cannot 
be cunning in her ; if it be, she makes a shower of rain 
as well as Jove. 

The whole secret of her absolute dominion over 
the facile Antony may be found in one little 
speech : 

Cleopatra. 255 

See where he is, — ^who's with him, — what he does :— 
(I did not send you). If you find him sad. 
Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report 
That I am sudden sick : Quick ! and return. 


Madam, methinks, if you did love him dearly. 
You do not hold the method to enforce 
The like from him. 


What should I do I do not? 


In each thing give him way ; cross him in nothing. 


Thou teachest, like a fool, the way to lose him. 


Tempt him not so too far. 

But Cleopatra is a mistress of her art, and knovij? 
better : and what a picture of her triumpha it pet- 
ulance, her imperious and imperial coquetry, is 
given in her own words ! 

That time — O, times ! — 
I laugh'd him out of patience; and that night 
I laugh'd him into patience: and next morn. 
Ere the ninth hour, I drunk him to his bed; 
Then put my tires and mantles on him, whilst 
I wore his sword, Fhilippan. 

When Antony enters, full of some serious pur- . 
pose which he is about to impart, the woman's 
perverseness and the tyrannical waywardness with 
which she taunts him and plays upon his temper 
are admirably depicted: — 

256 Sbahespearc's Deroines. 

I know, by that same eye, there's some good news. 
What says the married woman ?* — You may go ; 
'Would she had never given you leave to come! 
Let her not say, 'tis I that keep you here; 
I have no power upon you ; hers you are. 


The gods best know 


O, never was there queen 
So mightily betray'd ! Yet, at the first, 
I saw the treasons planted. 


Cleopatra! — 


Why should I think, you can be mine, and true. 
Though you in swearing shake the throned gods. 
Who have been false to Fulvia? Riotous madness. 
To be entangled with those mouth-made vows, 
-W^uch ibreak themselves in swearing ! 


Most sweet queen I 


Nay, pray you, seek no colour for your going. 
But bid farewell, and go. 

She recovers her dignity for a moment at the 
news of Fulvia's death, as if roused by a blow : — 

Though age from folly could not give me freedom, 
It does from childishness: — Can Fulvia die? 

* Fulvia, the first wife of Antony. 

Cleopatta. 257 

And then follows the artful mockery with which 
she tempts and provokes him, in order to discover 
whether he i egrets his wife: — 

O most false love ! 
Where be the sacred vials thou shouldst fill 
With sorrowful water? Now I see, I see 
In Fulvia's death, how mine receiv'd shall be. 


Quarrel no more : but be prepar'd to know 
The purposes I bear: which are, or cease. 
As you shall give th' advice : By the fire 
That quickens Nilus' slime, I go from hence. 
Thy soldier, servant, making peace, or war. 
As thou aifectest. 


Cut my lace, Charmian, come^ 
But let it be. I am quickly ill, and well. 
So Antony loves. 


My precious queen, forbear : 
And give true evidence to his love, which stands 
An honourable trial. 


So Fulvia told me. 
I pr'ythee, turn aside, and weep for her; 
Then bid adieu to me, and say, the tears 
Belong to Egypt : Good now, play one scene 
Of excellent dissembling; and let it look 
Like perfect honour. 


You'll heat my blood ; no more. 


You can do better yet; but this is meetly. 

258 Sbaftespeate's "beroinee. 


Now, by my sword — 


And target — still he mends; 
But this is not the best. Look, pr'ythee, Charmian, 
How this Herculean Roman does become 
The carriage of his chafe. 

This is, indeed, most "excellent dissembling"; 
but when she has fooled and chafed the Her- 
culean Roman to the verge of danger, then comes 
that return of tenderness which secures the power 
she has tried to the utmost, and we have all the 
elegant, the poetical Cleopatra, in her beautiful 
farewell : — 

Forgive me! 
Since my becomings kill me when they do not 
' Eye well to you. Your honour calls you hence. 
Therefore be deaf to my unpitied folly. 
And all the gods go with you ! Upon your sword 
Sit laurell'd victory; and smooth success 
Be strew'd before your feet! 

Finer still are the workings of her variable 
mind and lively imagination after Antony's depar- 
ture; her fond repining at his absence, her vio- 
lent spirit, her right royal wilfulness and impa- 
tience, as if it were a wrong to her majesty, an 
insult to her sceptre, that there should exist in 
her despite such things as space and time, and 
high treason to her sovereign power to dare to 
remember what she chooses to forget: — 

Give me to drink mandragora. 

That I might sleep out this great gap of time 

My Antony is away. 

Cleopatta. 259 

O Charmian! 
Where think'st thou he is now ? Stands he, or sits he. 
Or does he walk? or is he on his horse? 

happy horse to bear the weight of Antony ! 

Do ! for wot'st thou whom thou mov'sti 

The demi-Atlas of this earth — the arm 

And burgonet of men. He's speaking now, 

Or murmuring, Where's my serpent of old Nile? 

For so he calls me. 

Met'st thou my posts? 


Ay, madam, twenty several messengers: 
Why do you send so thick? 


Who's born that day 
When I forget to send to Antony 
Shall die a beggar. — Ink and paper, Charmian. 
Welcome, my good Alexas. — ^Did I, Charmian, 
Ever love Caesar so? 


O that brave Qesar! 


Be choked with such another emphasis! 
Say, the brave Antony. 


The valiant Caesar I 


By Isis, I will give thee bloody teeth. 
If thou with Cxsar paragon again 
My man of men! 


By your most gracious pardon, 

1 sing but after you. 

260 Sbaftestieare'fl t>eroined. 


My salad days, 
When I was green in judgment, — cold in blood, 
To say, as I said then! — But, come, away, 
Get me ink and paper : he shall have every day 
A several greeting, or I'll unpeople Egypt. 

We learn from Plutarch, that it was a favorite 
amusement with Antony and Cleopatra to ram- 
ble through the streets at night, and bandy ribald 
jests with the populace of Alexandria. From 
the same authority we know that they were ac- 
customed to live on .the most familiar terms with 
their attendants and the companions of their 
revels. To these traits we must add, that with 
all her violence, perverseness, egotism, and ca- 
price, Cleopatra mingled a capability for warm 
affections and kindly feeling, or rather, what 
we should call in these days a constitutional good- 
nature; and was lavishly generous to her favor- 
ites and dependants. These characteristics we 
find scattered through the play; they are not 
only faithfully rendered by Shakespeare, but he 
has made the finest use of them in his delineation 
of manners. Hence the occasional freedom of 
her women and her attendants, in the midst of 
their fears and flatteries, becomes most natural 
and consistent: hence, too, their devoted attach- 
ment and fidelity, proved even in death. But, 
as illustrative of Cleopatra's disposition, perhaps 
the finest and most characteristic scene in the 
whole play is that in which the messenger ar- 
rives from Rome with the tidings of Antony's 

Cleopatra. 261 

marriage with Octavia. She perceives at once 
with quickness that all is not well, and she has- 
tens to anticipate the worst, that she may have 
the pleasure of being disappointed. Her impa- 
tience to know what she fears to learn, the vivac- 
ity with which she gradually works herself up 
into a state of excitement, and at length into 
fury, is wrought out with a force of truth which 
makes us recoil. 


Antony's dead ! — If thou say so, villain, 
Thou kill'st thy mistress : but well and free. 
If thou so yield him, there is gold, and here 
My bluest veins to kiss ; a hand, that kings 
Have lipp'd, and trembled kissing. 


First, madam, he's well. 


Why, there's more gold. But, sirrah, mark! we use 
To say, the dead are well; bring it to that. 
The gold I give thee, will I melt, and pour 
Down thy ill-uttering throat. 


Good madam, hear me ! 


Well, go to, I will. 
But there's no goodness in thy face : if Antony 
Be free, and healthful,— so tart a favour 
To trumpet such good tidings? If not well. 
Thou should'st come like a fury crown'd with snakes. 


Will 't please you hear me? 

262 Sbafteapeate's ibetoinee. 


I have a mind to strike thee ere thou speak'st: 
Yet if thou say Antony lives, is vsrell. 
Or friends with Caesar, or not captive to him, 
I'll set thee in a shower of gold, and hail 
Rich pearls upon thee. 


Madan^ he's well 


Well £aid. 


And friends with Csesar. 


Thou 'rt an honest man. 


Caesar and he are greater friends than ever. 


Make thee a fortune from me. 


But yet, madam— 


I do not like but yet — it does allay 

The good precedence ; Fie upon but yet: 

But yet is as a gaoler to bring forth 

Some monstrous malefactor. Pr'ythee, friend, 

Pour out thy pack of matter to mine ear, 

The good and bad together : He's friends with Caesar ; 

In state of health, thou say'st; and, thou sa/st, free. 


Free, madam! No: I made no such report; 
He's bound unto Octavia. 


For what good turn? 

aieopatca. 268 


Madam, he's married to Octavia. 


The most infectious pestilence upon thee! 

[Strikes him down. 


Good madam, patience. 


What say you? — Hence, [Strikes him again. 
Horrible villain ! or I'll spurn thine eyes 
Like balls before me; I'll unhair thine head; 
Thou shalt be whipp'd with wire, and stew'd in brine, 
Smarting in ling'ring pickle. 


Gracious madam ! 
I, that do bring the news, made not the match. 


Say 'tis not so, a province I will give thee. 
And make thy fortunes proud : the blow thou hadst 
Shall make thy peace for moving me to rage j 
And I will boot thee with what gift beside 
Thy modesty can beg. 


He's married, madam. 


Rogue, thou hast liv'd too long. [Draws a dagger. 


Nay then I'll run. 
What mean you, madam? I have made no fault 



Good madam, keep yourself within yourself; 
The man is innocent. 

264 SbaRespcarc's Iberoines. 


Some innocents 'scape not the thunderbolt. 
Melt Egypt into Nile! and kindly creatures 
Turn all to serpents ! Call the slave again ; 
Though I am mad, I will not bite him: — Call! 


He is afeard to come. 


I will not hurt him; — 
These hands do lack nobility, that they strike 
A meaner than myself. 


In praising Antony I have disprais'd Cssar. 


Many times, madam. 


I am paid for 't now- 
Lead me from hence. 

I faint; O Iras, Charmian, — 'tis no matter: 
Go to the fellow, good Alexas ; bid him 
Report the feature of Octavia, her years. 
Her inclination, — let him not leave out 
The colour of her hair : Bring me word quickly. — 

[Exit Alexas. 
Let him for ever go: — let him not — Charmian, 
Though he be painted one way like a Gorgon, 
T'other way he's a Mars. Bid you Alexas 

[To Mardian. 
Bring me word how tall she is. Pity me, Charmian, 
But do not speak to me. Lead me to my chamber. 

I have given this scene entire because I know 
nothing comparable to it. The pride and ar- 

Cleopatra. 265 

rogance of tHe Egyptian queen, the blandishment 
of the woman, the unexpected but natural tran- 
sitions of temper and feeling, the contest of va- 
rious passions, and at length — when the wild hur- 
ricane has spent its fury — the melting into tears, 
faintness, and languishment, are portrayed with 
the most astonishing power, and truth, and skill 
in feminine nature. More wonderful still is the 
splendor and force of coloring which is shed over 
this extraordinary scene. The mere idea of an 
angry woman beating her menial presents some- 
thing ridiculous or disgusting to the mind; in 
a queen or a tragedy heroine it is still more in- 
decorous ;^ yet this scene is as far as possible 
from the vulgar or the comic. Cleopatra seems 
privileged to "touch the brink of all we hate" 
with impunity. This imperial termagant, this 
"wrangling queen, whom everything becomes," 
becomes even her fury. We know not by what 
strange power it is, that, in the midst of all these 
unruly gassions and childish caprices, the 
poetry of the character and the fanciful and 
sparkling grace of the delineation are sustained 
and still rule in the imagination ; but we feel that 
it is so. 

I need hardly observe, that we have historical 
authority for the excessive violence of Cleopa- 
tra's temper: witness the story of her boxing 

•The well-known violence and coarseness of Queen 
Elizabeth's manners, in which she was imitated by the 
women afcout her, may in Shakespeare's time have ren- 
dered the image of a royal virago less offensive and less 

266 Sbaftespeate's Iberofnes. 

the ears of her treasurer, in presence of Octavius, 
as related by Plutarch. Shakespeare has made 
a fine use of this anecdote also towards the con- 
clusion of the drama, but it is not equal in power 
to this scene with the messenger. 

The man is afterwards brought back, almost 
by force, to satisfy Cleopatra's jealous anxiety 
by a description of Octavia : — but this time, made 
wise by experience, he takes care to adapt his 
information to the humors of his imperious mis- 
tress, and gives her a satirical picture of her 
.rival. The scene which follows, in which Cleo- 
patra — artful, acute, and penetrating as she is 
I — ^becomes the dupe of her feminine spite and 
jealousy, nay, assists in duping herself ; and after 
having cuffed the messenger for telling her truths 
which are offensive, rewards him for the false- 
hood which flatters her weakness; is not only 
an admirable exhibition of character, but a fine 
moral lesson. 

She concludes, after dismissing the messen- 
ger with gold and thanks, 

I repent me much 
That so I harried him. Why, methinks, by him, 
This creature's no such thing. 


Nothing, madam. 


The man hath seen some majesty, and should know. 

Do we not fancy Cleopatra drawing herself 
up with all the vain consciousness of rank and 

Cleopatra. 267 

beauty, as she pronounces this last line? and is 
not this the very woman who celebrated her own 
apotheosis, whp arrayed herself in the robe and 
diadem of the goddess Isis, and could find no 
titles magnificent enough for her children but 
those of the Sun and the Moonf 

The despotism and insolence of her temper 
are touched in some other places most admir- 
ably. Thus, when she is told that the Romans 
libel and abuse her, she exclaims. 

Sink Rome; and their tongues rot, i 

That speak against us ! ■ 

And when one of her attendants observes, that 
"Herod of Jewry dared not look upon her but 
when she were w^ell pleased," she immediately 
replies, "That Herod's head I'll have.'" 

When Proculeius surprises her in her monu-- 
ment, and snatches her poniard from her, ter- 
ror and fury, pride, passion, and disdain, swell 
in her haughty soul, and seem to shake her very 


Where art thou, death? 
Come hither, come ! come, come, and take a queen 
Worth many babes and beggars ! 


O, temperance, lady! - 


Sir, I will eat no meat; I'll not drink, sir: 
(If idle talk will once be necessary,) 

' She was as good as her word. See the Life of An- 
tony in Plutarch. 

268 SbaRespeate's f)ecoine0. 

I'll not sleep neither; this mortal hoi^se I'll ruin, 
Do Csesar what he can! Know, sir, that I 
Will not wait pinion'd at your master's court. 
Nor once be chastis'd with the sober eye 
Of dull Octavia. Shall they hoist me up. 
And show me to the shouting varletry 
Of censuring Rome? Rather a ditch in Egypt 
Be gentle grave unto me ! Rather on Nilus' mud 
Lay me stark naked, and let the water-flies 
Blow me into abhorring! Rather make 
My country's high pyramids my gibbet. 
And hang me up in chains ! 

In the same spirit of royal bravado, but finer 
still, and worked up with a truly Oriental ex- 
uberance of fancy and imagery, is her famous de- 
scription of Antony, addressed to Dolabella: 

Most noble empress, you have heard of me? 


I cannot tell. 


Assuredly, you know me. 


No matter, sir, what I have heard, or known. 
You laugh, when boys, or women, tell their dreams; 
Is 't not your trick? 


I understand not, madam. 


I dreamt there was — emperor Antony; 
O, such another sleep, that I might see 
But such another man! 


If it might please ym,— 

Oleopatta. 269 


His face was as the heavens; and therein stuck 
A sun, and moon ; wjxich kept their course, and lighted 
The little O, the earth. 


Most sovereign creature; 


His legs bestrid the ocean : his rear'd arm 

Crested the world: his voice was propertied 

As all the tuned spheres, and that to friends ; 

But when he meant to quail or shake the orb. 

He was as rattling thunder. For his bounty. 

There was no winter in 't; an autumn 'twas. 

That grew the more by reaping: His delights 

Were dolphin-like; they show'd his back above 

The element they liv'd in : In his livery' 

Walk'd crowns and crownets : realms and islands were 

As plates' dropt from his pocket. 




Think you, there was, or might be, such a man 
As this I dreamt of? 


Gentle madam, na 


You lie, — up to the hearing of the gods! 

There was no room left in this amazing pic- 
ture for the display of that passionate maternal 
tenderness which was a strong and redeeming 

^ i.e. retinue. 

"i.e. silver coins, from the Spanish phta. 

270 Sbafteepeare's tberoines. 

feature in Cleopatra's historical character; but 
it is not left untouched; for when she is im- 
precating mischiefs on herself she wishes, as 
the last and worst of possible evils, that "thun- 
der may smite Csesarion !" 

In representing the mutual passion of Antony 
and Cleopatra as real and fervent, Shakespeare 
has adhered to the truth of history as well as 
to general nature. On Antony's side it is a spe- 
cies of infatuation, a single and engrossing feel- 
ing: it is, in short, the love of a man declined 
in years for a woman very much younger than 
himself, and . who has subjected him by every 
species of female enchantment. In Cleopatra the 
passion is of a mixed nature, made up of real 
attachment, combined with the love of pleasure, 
;tlie love of power, and the love of ^elf. Not only 
is the character most complicated, but no one 
sentiment could have existed pure and unvary- 
ing in such a mind as hers: her passion in it- 
se;lf is true, fixed to one centre ; but, like the pen- 
non streaming from the mast, it flutters and veers 
with every breath of her variable temper: yet 
in the midst of all her caprices, follies, and even 
vices, womanly feeling is still predominant in 
Cleopatra, and the change which takes place ■ 
in her deportment towards Antony, when their 
evil fortune darkens round them, is as beauti- ' 
ful and interesting in itself as it is striking and 
natural. Instead of the airy caprice and provok- 
ing petulance she displays in the first scenes, we 
have a mixture of tenderness, and artifice, and 
fear, and submissive blandishment. Her be- 

Olcopatta. 271 

havior, for instance, after tHe battle of lA^ctium, 
when she quails before the noble and tender re- 
buke of her lover, is partly female subtlety and 
partly natural feeling. 


O my lord, tny lord. 
Forgive my fearful sails! I little thought 
You would have foUow'd. 


Egypt, thou knew'st too well, 
My heart was to thy rudder tied by th' strings, 
And thou should'st tow me after : O'er my spirit 
Thy full supremacy thou knew'st; and that 
V Thy beck might from the bidding of the gods 
Command me. 


O, my pardon! 


Now I must 
To the young man send humble treaties, dodge 
And palter in the shifts of lowness ; who 
With half the bulk o' the world pla/d as I pleased. 
Making and marring fortunes. You did know 
How much you were my conqueror; and that 
My sword, made weak by my affection, would 
Obey it on all cause. 


Pardon, pardon! 


Fall not a tear, I say ; one of them rates 
All that is won or lost. Give me a kiss, 
Even this repays me. 

272 SbaIiespeate'0 tietolnce. 

It is perfectly in keeping with the individual 
character, that Cleopatra, alike destitute of moral 
strength and physical courage, should cower, ter- 
rified and subdued, before the masculine spirit 
of her lover, when once she has fairly roused 

Thus Tasso's Armida.half syren, half sorceress, 
in the moment of strong feeling, forgets her in- 
cantations, and has recourse to persuasion, to 
prayers, and to tears : 

Lascia gl' incanti, e vuol provar se vega 
£ supplice belta sia miglior maga. 

Though the poet afterwards gives us to under- 
stand that even in this relinquishment of art 
there was a more refined artifice : 

Nella doglia amara 
Gia tutte non oblia Tauti e le frodi. 

And something like this inspires the conduct of 
Cleopatra towards Antony in his fallen fortunes. 
The reader should refer to that fine scene where 
Antony surprises Thyreus kissing her hand, "that 
kingly seal and plighter of high hearts," and 
rages like a thousand hurricanes. 

The character of Mark Antony, as delineated 
by Shakespeare, reminds me of the Famese 
Hercules. There is an ostentatious display of 
power, an exaggerated grandeur, a colossal ef- 
fect in the whole conception, sustained through- 
out in the pomp of the language, which seems. 


as it flows along, to resound with the ci 
arms and the music of the revel. The ccjci 
ness and violence of the historic portrait are \ 
little kept down; but every word which Antony 
utters is characteristic of the arrogant but mag- 
nanimous Roman, who "with half the bulk o' 
the world play'd as he pleased," and was him- 
self the sport of a host of mad (and bad) pas- 
sions, and the slave of a woman. 

History is followed closely in all the details 
of the catastrophe, and there is something won- 
derfully grand in the hurried march of events 
towards the conclusion. As disasters hem her 
round, Cleopatra gathers up her faculties to meet 
them, not with the calm fortitude of a great soul, 
but the haughty, tameless spirit of a wilful 
woman unused to reverse or contradiction. 

Her speech, after Antony has expired in her 
arms, I have always regarded as one of the most 
wonderful in Shakespeare. Cleopatra is not a 
woman to grieve silently. The contrast between 
the violence of her passions and the weakness 
of her sex, between her regal grandeur and her 
excess of misery, her impetuous, unavailing 
struggles with the fearful destiny which has 
compassed her, and the mixture of wild im- 
patience and pathos in her agony, are really mag- 

She faints on the body of Antony, and is re- 
called to life by the cries of her women : — 


Royal Egypt— empress I 

SbaFsespeate's Ibecoinea. 


No more, but e'en a woman ■' and commanded 

By such poor passion as the maid that milks 

And does the meanest chares. — It were for me 

To throw my sceptre at the injurious gods; 

iTo tell them, that this world did equal theirs 

Till they had stolen our jewel. All's but nought; 

Patience is sottish; and impatience does 

Become a dog that's mad ; Then is it sin 

To rush into the secret house of death. 

Ere death dare come to us? How do you, women? 

What, what ? good cheer ! why how now, Charraian ? ' 

My noble girls ! — ah, women, women ! look 

Our lamp is spent, it's out. 

We'll bury him ; and then, what's brave, what's noble, 

Let's do it after the high Roman fashion. 

And make death proud to take us. 

But although Cleopatra talks of dying "after 
the high Roman fashion," she fears what she 
most desires, and cannot perform with simplicity 
what costs her such an effort. That extreme 
i; physical cowardice which was so strong a trait 
^"'; in her historical character, which led to the de- 
feat of Actium, which made her delay the ex- 
ecution of a fatal resolve till she had "tried con- 
' elusions infinite of easy ways to die," Shake- - 
speare has rendered with the finest possible ef-- 
fect, and in a manner which heightens instead 
of diminishing our respect and interest. Timid, 
by nature, she is courageous by the mere force . 
of will, and she lashes herself up with high- 

° Cleopatra replies to the first word she hears on re- 
covering her senses, "No more an empress, but a mere 

Cleopatta. 275 

sounding words into a kind of false daring. Her 
lively imagination suggests every incentive which 
can spur her on to the deed she has resolved, 
yet trembles to contemplate. She pictures to 
herself all the degradations which must attend 
her captivity: and let it be observed, that those 
which she anticipates are precisely such as a 
vain, luxurious, and haughty woman would es- 
pecially dread, and which only true virtue and 
magnanimity could despise. Cleopatra could 
have endured the loss of freedom; but to be 
led in triumph through the streets of Rome is 
insufferable. She could stoop to Caesar with dis- 
sembling courtesy, and meet duplicity with su- 
perior art ; but "to be chastised" by the scorn- 
ful or upbraiding glance of the injured Octavia 
— "rather a ditch in Egypt !" 

If knife, drugs, serpents, have 

Edge, sting, or operation, I am safe: 
Your wife Octavia, with her modest eyes 
And still conclusion" shall acquire no honour 
Demuring upon me. 

Now, Iras, what thinkst thou? 
Thou, an Egyptian puppet, shalt be shown 
In Rome, as well as I. Mechanic slaves, 
With greasy aprons, rules, and hammers, shall 
Uplift us to the view: in their thick breaths. 
Rank of gross diet, shall we be enclouded 
And forc'd to drink their vapour. 


The gods forbid! 
"i.e. sedate determination.— Johnson. 

276 Sbaftespeate's f>etofnes. 


Nay, 'tis most certain, Iras: Saucy lictors 

Will catch at us, like strumpets; and scald rhymo'S 

Ballad us out o' tune. The quick comedians 

Extemporally will stage us, and present 

Our Alexandrian revels; Antony 

Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see 

Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness. 

She then calls for her diadem, her robes of 
state, and attires herself as if "again for Cyd- 
nus, to meet Mark Antony." Coquette to the 
last, she must make Death proud to take her, 
and die, "phcenix-Uke," as she had lived, with 
all the pomp of preparation — luxurious in her 

The death of Lucretia, of Portia, of Arria, . 
and others who died "after the high Roman fash- 
ion," is sublime according to the Pagan ideas 
of virtue, and yet none of them so powerfully 
affect the imagination as the catastrophe of Cleo- 
patra. The idea of this frail, timid, wayward 
woman dying with heroism, from the mere force 
of passion and will, takes us by surprise. The 
Attic elegance of her mind, her poetical imagina- 
tion, the pride of beauty and royalty predominat- 
ing to the last, and the sumptuous and pictur- 
esque accompaniments with which she surrounds 
herself in death, carry to its extreme height that 
effect of contrast which prevails through her 
life and character. No arts, no invention, could 
add to the real circumstances of Cleopatra's clos- 
ing scene. Shakespeare has shown profound 
judgment and feeling in adhering closely to the 

Cleopatta. 277 

classical authorities ; and to say that the language 
and sentiments worthily fill up the outline is the 
most magnificent praise that can be given. The 
magical play of fancy and the overpowering fas- 
cination of the character are kept up to the last : 
and when Cleopatra on applying the asp, silences 
the lamentations of her women — 

Peace! peace I 
Dost thou not see my baby at my breast 
That sucks the nurse asleep? 

These few words — the contrast between the ten- 
der beauty of the image and the horror of the 
situation — ^produce an effect more intensely 
mournful than all the ranting in the world. The 
generous devotion of her women adds the moral 
charm (which alone was wanting: and when Oc- 
tavius hurries in too late to save his victim, and 
exclaims, when gazing on her — 

She looks like sleep — 
As she would catch another Antony 
In her strong toil of grace — 

the image of her beauty and her irresistible arts, 
triumphant even in death, is at once brought be- ■ 
fore us, and one masterly and comprehensive 
stroke consummates this most wonderful, most 
dazzling delineation. 

I am not here the apologist of Cleopatra's his- 
torical character nor of such women as resem- 
ble her: I am considering her merely as a dra- 
matic portrait of astonishing beauty, spirit and 

278 Sbafteepeate's Ibetofnes. 

originality. She has furnished the subject of 
two Latin, sixteen French, six English, and at 
least four Italian tragedies ;^^ yet Shakespeare 
alone has availed himself of all the interest of 
the story without falsifying the character. He 
alone has dared to exhibit the Egyptian queen 
with all her greatness and all her littleness — 
all her frailties of temper — all her paltry arts and 
dissolute passions, yet preserved the dramatic 
propriety and poetical coloring of the character, 
and awakened our pity for fallen grandeur with- 
out once beguiling us into sympathy with guilt 
and error. Corneille has represented Cleopatra 
as a model of chaste propriety, magnanimity, 
constancy, and every female virtue; and the ef- 
fect is almost ludicrous. In our own language, 
we have two very fine tragedies on the story of 
Cleopatra: in that of Dryden, which is in truth 
a noble poem, and which he himself considered 
his masterpiece, Cleopatra is a mere common- 
place "all for love" heroine, full of constancy 
and fine sentiments. For instance : 

"The "Cleopatra" of Jodelle was the first regular 
French tragedy: the last French tragedy on the same 
subject was the "Cleopatra" of Marmontel. For the 
representation of this tragedy, Vaucanson, the celebrated 
French mechanist, invented an automaton asp, which 
crawled and hissed to the life, — ^to the great delight of 
the Parisians. But it appears that neither Vaucanson's 
asp, nor Clairon, could save "Cleopatre" from a de- 
served fate. Of the English tragedies, one was written 
by the Countess of Pembroke, the sister of Sir Philip 
Sydney, and is, I believe, the first instance in our lan- 
guage of original dramatic writing by a female. 

Cleopatra, 279 

My love's so true, 
That I can neither hide it where it is 
Nor show it where it is not. Nature meant me 
A wife — a silly, harmless, household dove. 
Fond without art, and kind without deceit. 
But Fortune, that has made a mistress of me. 
Has thrust me out to the wide world, unfurnished 
Of falsehood to be happy. 

Is this Antony's Cleopatra — ^the Circe of the 
Nile — ^the Venus of Cydnus ? She never uttered 
anything half so mawkish in her life. 

In Fletcher's "False One," Cleopatra is repre- 
sented at an earlier period of her history : and to 
give an idea of the aspect under which the char- 
acter is exhibited (and it does not vary through- 
out the play) I shall give one scene: if it be con- 
sidered out of place, its extreme beauty will form 
its best apology. 

Ptolemy and his council having exhibited to 
Caesar all the royal treasures in Egypt, he is so 
astonished and dazzled at the vieW of the accu- 
mulated wealth that he forgets the presence of 
Cleopatra, and treats her with negligence. The 
following scene between her and her sister Ar- 
sinoe occurs immediately afterwards: — 


You're so impatient! 


Have I not cause? 
Women of common beauties and low births. 
When they are slighted, are allowed their angers- 
Why should not I, a princess, make him know 
The baseness of his usage? 

280 Sbalieepeare's tetofnes. 


Yes, 'tis fit: 
But then again you know what man 


He's no man! 
The shadow of a greatness hangs upon him. 
And not the virtue; he is no conqueror. 
Has suffered under the base dross of nature; 
Poorly delivered up his power to weahh. 
The god of bed-rid men taught his eyes treason : 
Against the truth of love he has rais'd rebellion — 
Defied his holy flames. 


He will fall back again, 
And satisfy your grace. 


Had I been old. 
Or blasted in my bud, he might have show'd 
Some shadow of dislike: but to prefer 
The lustre of a little trash, Arsinoe, 
And the poor glow-worm light of some faint jewels 
Before the light of love and soul of beauty — 
O how it vexes me! He is no soldier: 
All honorable soldiers are Love's servants. 
He is a merchant, a mere wandering merchant. 
Servile to gain ; he trades for poor commodities. 
And makes his conquests thefts ! Some fortunate 

That quarter with him, and are truly valiant. 
Have flung the name of "Happy Caesar" on him; 
Himself ne'er won it. He's so base and covetous. 
He'll sell his sword for gold. 


This is too bitter. 


O I could curse myself, that was so foolish. 
So fondly childish, to believe his tongue— 

Cleopatta. 281 


His promising tongue — ere I could catch his temper. 
I'd trash enough to have cloy'd his eyes withal, 
(His covetous eyes) such as I scorn to tread on. 
Richer than e'er he saw yet, and more tempting; 
Had I known he'd stoop'd at that, I'd sav'd mine 

honour — 
I had been happy still! But let him take it. 
And let him brag how poorly I'm rewarded; 
Let him go conquer still weak wretched ladies; 
Love has his angry quiver too, his deadly. 
And when he finds scorn, armed at the strongest — 
I am a fool to fret thus for a fool, — 
An old blind fool too ! I lose my health ; I will not, 
I will not cry; I will not honour him 
With tears diviner than the gods he worships; 
I will not take the pains' to curse a poor thing. 


Do not; you shall not need. 


Would I were a prisoner 
To one I hate, that I might anger him ! 
I will love any man to break the heart of him! 
Any that has the heart and will to kill him! 


Take some fair truce. 


I will go study mischief. 
And put a look on, arm'd with all my cunnings. 
Shall meet him like a basilisk, and strike him. 
Love ! put destroying flame into mine eyes, 
Into my smiles deceits, that I may torture him — 
That I may make him love to death, and laugh at 

Enter Apollodorus. 

282 Sba(ie0pcace'0 Iberoines. 


Cxsar commends his service to your grace. 


His service? What's his service? 


Pray you be patient; 
iThe notile C&sar loves still. 


What's his will? 


He craves access unto your highness. : 


Say no; I will have none to trouble me. % 


Good sister!— 


None, I say ; I will be private. 
Would thou hadst flung me into Nilus, keeper. 
When first thou gav'st consent to bring my body 
To this unthankful Csesar! 


'Twas your will, madam. 
Nay more, your charge upon me, as I honour'd yoa 
You know what danger I endur'd. 


Take this, [giving a jewel. 
And carry it to that lordly Csesar sent thee ; 
There's a new love, a handsome one, a rich one,^ 
One that will hug his mind : bid him make love to it; 
Tell the ambitious broker this will suffer — 

Enter Caesar. 

He enters. 

Cleopatta. 283 




I do not use to wait, lady; 
Where I am, all the doors are free and open. 


I guess SO by your rudeness. 


You're not angry? 
Things of your tender mould should be most gentle. 
Why do you frown? Good gods, what a set anger 
Have you forced into your face ! Come, I must tem- 
per you. 
What a coy smile was there, and a disdainful! 
How like an ominous flash it broke out from you ! 
Defend me, love! Sweet, who has anger'd you? 


Show him a glass ! That false face has betray'd me— 
That base heart wrong'd me ! 


Be more sweetly angry. 
I wrong'd you, fair? 


Away with your foul flatteries; 
They are too gross ! But that I dare be angry. 
And with as great a god as Caesar is, 
To show how poorly I respect his memory 
I would not speak to you. 


Pray you, undo this riddle. 
And tell me how I've vex'd you. 

281 Sbafiespeate's "betoinea. 


Let me think first. 
Whether I may put on a patience 
That will with honour suffer me. Know I hate yoilj 
Let that begin the story. Now I'll tell you. 


But do it mildly; in a noble lady. 

Softness of spirit, and a sober nature. 

That moves like summer winds, cool, and blows 

Shows blessed, like herself. 


And that great blessedness 
lYou first reap'd of me; till you taught my nature. 
Like a rude storm, to talk aloud and thunder, 
Sleep was not gentler than my soul, and stiller. 
You had the spring of my affections. 
And my fair fruits I gave you leave to taste of; 
You must expect the winter of mine anger. 
You flung me off — ^before the court disgraced mfr— 
When in the pride I appear'd of all my beauty — 
Appear'd your mistress; took unto your eyes 
The common strumpet, love of hated lucre, — 
Courted with covetous heart the slave of nature, — 
Gave all your thoughts to gold, that men of glory. 
And minds adorn'd with noble love, would kick at! 
Soldiers of royal mark scorn such base purchase; 
Beauty and honour are the marks they shoot at. 
I spake to you then, I courted you, and woo'd you, 
Call'd you dear Caesar, hung about you tenderly, 
Was proud to appear your friend — 


You have mistaken me. 


But neither eye, nor favour, not a smile 
Was I bless'd back withal, but shook off rudely; 

Cleopatra. 286 

And as you had been sold to sordid infamy. 
You fell before the image of treasure, 
And in your soul you worshipp'd. I stood slighted, 
Forgotten, and contemned ; my soft embraces. 
And those sweet kisses which you call'd Ely^um, 
As letters writ in sand, no more remember'd; 
The name and glory of your Cleopatra 
Laugh'd at, and made a story to your captains! 
Shall I endure? 


You are deceived in all this; 
Upon my life you are ; 'tis your much tenderness. 


No, no ; I love not that way ; you are cozen'd ; 
I love with as much ambition as a conqueror. 
And where I love will triumph! 


So you shall : 
My heart shall be the chariot that shall bear you : 
All I have won shall wait upon you. By the gods. 
The bravery of this woman's mind has fir'd me ! 
Dear mistress, shall I but this once 


How! Csesar! 
Have I let slip a second vanity 
That gives thee hope? 


Yoti shall be absolute 
And reign alone as queen ; you shall be anything. 


Farewell, unthankful I 




I will not. 

286 Sbaftespeare's fi}etofne0» 


I commanil. 


Command and go without, sir, 

I do command thee be my slave for ever. 

And vex, while I laugh at thee! 


Thus low. Beauty [He kneels. 


It is too late ; when I have found thee absolute. 
The man that fame reports thee, and to me. 
May be I shall think better. Farewell, conqueror ! 

Now this is magnificent poetry, but this is not 
Cleopatra, this is not "the gipsy queen." The 
sentiment here is too profound, the majesty too 
real and too lofty. Cleopatra could be great 
by fits and starts, but never sustained her dig- 
nity upon so high a tone for ten minutes together. 
The Cleopatra of Fletcher reminds us of the an- 
tique colossal statue of her in the Vatican, all 
grandeur and grace. Cleopatra in Dryden's 
tragedy is like Guido's dying Cleopatra in the 
Pitti palace, tenderly beautiful. Shakespeare's 
Cleopatra is like one of those graceful and fan- 
tastic pieces of antique Arabesque, in which all 
anomalous shapes and impossible and wild com- 
binations of form are woven together in regular 
confusion and harmonious discord : and such, we 
have reason to believe, was the living woman 
herself, when she existed upon this earth. 

Octavfa. 287 


I DO not understand the observation of a late 
critic, that in this play "Octavia is only a dull 
foil to Cleopatra." Cleopatra requires no foil, 
and Octavia is not dull, though in a moment of 
jealous spleen her accomplished rival gives her 
that epithet.^^ It is possible that her beautiful 
character, if brought more forward and colored 
up to the historic portrait, would still be eclipsed . 
by the dazzling splendor of Cleopatra's; for so 
I have seen a flight of fireworks blot out for a 
while the silver moon and ever burning stars. 
But here, the subject of the drama being the 
love of Antony and Cleopatra, Octavia is very 
properly kept in the background, and far from 
any competition with her rival : the interest would 
otherwise have been unpleasantly divided, or 
rather, Cleopatra herself must have served but . 
as a foil to the tender, virtuous, dignified, and 
generous Octavia, the very beau ideal of a noble 
Roman lady — 

Admired Octavia, whose beauty claims 
No worse a husband than the best of men; 
Whose virtue and whose general graces speak 
That which none else can utter. 

" "The sober eye of dull Octavia." — Act v. scene 2. 

288 Sbafiespeate's f>ecoine0. 

Dryden has committed a great mistake in 
bringing Octavia and her children on the scene, 
and in immediate contact with Cleopatra. To 
have thus violated the truth of history^* might 
have been excusable, but to sacrifice the truth 
of nature and dramatic propriety to produce a 
mere stage effect was unpardonable. In order 
to preserve the unity of interest, he ha:s falsified 
the character of Octavia as well as that of Qeo- 
patra :^* he has presented us with a regular scold- 
ing-match between the rivals, in which they come 
sweeping up to each other from opposite sides 
of the stage, with their respective trains, like 
two pea-hens in a passion. Shakespeare would 
no more have brought his captivating, brilliant, 
but meretricious Cleopatra into immediate com- 
parison with the noble and chaste simplicity of 
Octavia, than a connoisseur in art would have 
placed Canova's Dansatrice, beautiful as it is, 

" Octavia was never in Egypt. 

" "The Octavia of Dryden is a much more important 
personage than in the Antony and Cleopatra of Shake- 
speare. She is, however, more cold and unamiable, for 
in the very short scenes in which the Octavia of Shake- 
speare is introduced, she is placed in rather an interest- 
ing point of view. But Dryden has himself informed 
us, that he was apprehensive that the justice of a wife's 
claim would draw the audience to her side, and lessen 
their interest in the lover and the mistress. He seems, 
accordingly, to have studiously lowered the character 
of the injured Octavia, who, in her conduct to her hus- 
band, shows much duty and little love." Sir W. Scott 
(in the same fine piece of criticism prefixed to Dryden's 
"All for Love") gives the preference to Shakespeare's 

®ctavia. 289 

beside the Athenian Melpomene, or the Vestal 
of the Capitol. 

The character of Octavia is merely indicated 
in a few touches, but every stroke tells. We 
see her with "downcast eyes sedate and sweet, 
and looks demure," — with her modest tenderness 
and dignified submission — ^the very antipodes of 
her rival! Nor should we forget that she has 
furnished one of the most graceful similes in 
the whole compass of poetry, where her soft 
equanimity in the midst of grief is compared to 

The swan's down feather 
That stands upon the swell at flood of tide. 
And neither way inclines. 

The fear which seems to haunt the mind of 
Cleopatra lest she should be "chastised by the 
sober eye" of Octavia, is exceedingly charac- 
teristic of the two women: it betrays the jealous 
pride of her who was conscious that she had 
forfeited all real claim to respect; and it places 
Octavia before us in all the majesty of that vir- 
tue which could strike a kind of envying and re- 
morseful awe even into the bosom of Cleopatra. 
What would she have thought and felt, had some 
soothsayer foretold to her the fate of her own 
children, whom she so tenderly loved? Cap- 
tives, and exposed to the rage of the Roman pop- 
ulace, they owed their existence to the generous, 
admirable Octavia, in whose mind there entered 
no particle of littleness. She received into her 
house the children of Antony and Cleopatra, edu- 

290 SbiCkespente's f>eroine0. 

cated them with her own, treated them witK truly 
maternal tenderness, and married them nobly. 

Lastly, to complete the contrast, the death of 
Octavia should be put in comparison with that 
of Cleopatra. 

After spending several years in dignified re- 
tirement, respected as the sister of Augustus, but 
more for her own virtues, Octavia lost her eld- 
est son Marcellus, who was expressively called 
the "Hope of Rome." Her fortitude gave way 
under this blow, and she fell into a deep melan- 
choly, which gradually wasted her health. While 
she was thus declining into death, occurred that 
beautiful scene, which has never yet, I believe, 
been made the subject of a picture, but should 
certainly be added to my gallery (if I had one), 
and I would hang it opposite to the dying Cleo- 
patra. Virgil was commanded by Augustus to 
. read aloud to his sister that book of the Eheid 
in which he had commemorated the virtues and 
early death of the young Marcellus. When he 
came to the lines — 

This youth, the blissful vision of a day. 

Shall just be shown on earth, then snatdi'd away, &c. 

the mother covered her face, and burst into tears. 
But when Virgil mentioned her son by name 
("Tu Marcellus eris"), which he had artfully de- 
ferred till the concluding lines, Octavia, unable 
to control her agitation, fainted away. She after- 
wards, with a magnificent spirit, ordered the poet 
a gratuity of ten thousand sesterces for each line 



of (he panegyric.*^ It is probable that the agita- 
tion she suffered on this occasion hastened the 
effects of her disorder; for she died soon after 
(of grief, says the historian), having survived 
Antony about twenty years. 

"In all, about two thousand pounds. 

292 Sbaftespeate'0 f>erofnes. 


OcTAViA, however, is only a beautiful sketch, 
while in Volumnia Shakespeare has given us the 
portrait of a Roman matron, conceived in the 
true antique spirit, and finished in every part. 
Although Coriolanus is the hero of the play, yet 
much of the interest of the action and the final 
catastrophe turn upon the character of his mother, 
Volumnia, and the power she exercised over his 
mind, by which, according to the story, "she 
saved Rome and lost her son." Her lofty pa- 
triotism, her patrician haughtiness, her maternal 
pride, her eloquence and her towering spirit, are 
exhibited with the utmost power of effect ; yet the 
truth of female nature is beautifully preserved, 
and the portrait, with all its vigor, is without 

I shall begin by illustrating the relative posi- 
tion and feelings of the mother and son ; as these 
are of the greatest importance in the action of 
the drama, and consequently most prominent in 
the characters. Though Volumnia is a Roman 
matron, and though her country owes its salva- 
tion to her, it is clear that her maternal pride 
and affection are stronger even than her patriot- 
ism. Thus, when her son is exiled, she btirsts 
into an imprecation against Rome and its citi- 

IDolumnfa. 293 

Now the red pestilence strike all trades in Rome, 
And occupations perish! 

Here we have the impulses of individual and 
feminine nature overpowering all national and 
habitual influences. Volumnia would never have 
exclaimed like the Spartan mother of her dead 
son, "Sparta has many others as brave as he!" 
but in a far different spirit she says to the Ro- 

Ere you go, hear this: 
As far as doth the Capitol exceed 
The meanest house in Rome: so far, my son, 
Whom you have banish'd, does exceed you all. 

In the very first scene, and before the intro- 
duction of the principal personages, one citizen 
observes to another that the military exploits of 
Marcius were performed » not so much for his 
country's sake "as to please his mother." By 
this admirable stroke of art, introduced with such 
simplicity of effect, our attention is aroused, and 
we are prepared in the very outset of the piece 
for the important part assigned to Volumnia, 
and for her share in producing the catastrophe. 

In the first act we have a very /graceful scene, 
in which the two Roman ladies, the wife and 
mother of Coriolanus, are discovered at their 
needlework, conversing on his absence and dan-- 
ger, and are visited by Valeria — 

The noble sister of Publicola, 
The moon of Rome ; chaste as the icicle, 
That's curded by the frost from purest snow, 
And hangs on Dian's temple! 

294 Sbaftespeare's f)erofne0. 

Over this little scene Shakespeare, without any 
display of learning, has breathed the very spirit 
of classical antiquity. The haughty temper of 
Volumnia, her admiration of the valor and high 
bearing of her son, and her proud but unselfish 
love for him, are finely contrasted with the mod- 
est sweetness, the conjugal tenderness, and the 
fond solicitude of his wife Virgilia. 


When yet he was but tender-bodied, and the only son 
of my womb; when youth with comeliness pluck'd all 
gaze his way; when, for a day of king's entreaties, a 
mother should not sell him an hour from her beholding ; 
I, — considering how honour would become such a per- 
son, that it was no better than picture-like to hang by 
the wall if renown made it not stir, — was pleased to let 
him seek danger where he was like to find fame. To a 
cruel war I sent him, from whence he returned, his brows 
bound with oak. I tell thee, daughter — I sprang not 
more in joy at first hearing he was a man-child, than 
now in first seeing he had proved himself a man. 


But had he died in the business, madam, how then? 


Then his good report should have been my son; I 
therein would have found issue. Hear me profess sin- 
cerely: had I a dozen sons, each in my love alike, and 
none less dear than thine and my good Marcius, I had 
rather had eleven die nobly for their country than one 
voluptuously surfeit out of action. 

Enter a gentlewoman. 

Madam, the lady Valeria is come to visit you. 

Volumnfa. 295 


Beseech you, give me leave to retire mysdL 


Indeed, you shall not. 

Methinks, I hear hither your husband's drum; 

See him pluck Aufidius down by the hair ; 

As children from a bear, the Volsces shunning him; 

Methinks, I see him stamp thus, and call thus, 

"Come on, you cowards! you were got in fear. 

Though you were born in Rome :" His bloody brow 

With his mail'd hand then wiping, forth he goes ; 

Like to a harvest-man, that's task'd to mow 

O'er all, or lose his hire. 


His bloody brow! O jupiter, no blood! 


Away, you fool! it more becomes a man 
Than gilt his trophy. The breasts of Hecuba, 
When she did suckle Hector, look'd not lovelier 
Than Hector's forehead, when it spit forth blood 
At Grecian swords contemning. — Tell Valeria 
We are fit to bid her welcome. [Exit Gent, 


Heavens bless my lord from fell Aufidius! 


He'll beat Aufidius' head below his knee, 
And tread upon his neck. 

This distinction between the two females is 
as interesting and beautiful as it is well sus- 
tained. Thus, when the victory of Coriolanus 
is proclaimed, Menenius asks, "Is he wounded?" 

296 Sbafteepeare's "betofnes. 


O! no, no, no! 


Ol he is wounded, I thank the gods for 't 

And when he returns victorious from the wars, 
bis high-spirited mother receives him with bless- 
ings and applause — ^his gentle wife with "gracious 
silence" and with tears. 

The resemblance of temper in the mother and 
the son, modified as it is by the difference of 
sex and by her greater age and experience, is 
exhibited with admirable truth. Volumnia, with 
all her pride and spirit, has some prudence and 
self-command: in her language and deportment 
all is matured and matronly. The dignified tone 
of authority she assumes towards her son, when 
checking his headlong impetuosity, her respect 
and admiration for his noble qualities, and her 
strong sympathy even with the feelings she com- 
bats, are all displayed in the scene in which she 
prevails on him to soothe the incensed plebeians. 


Pray be counsell'd : 
I have a heart as little apt as yours, — 
But yet a brain, that leads my use of anger 
,To better vantage. 


Well said, noble woman : 
Before he should thus stoop to the herd, but that 
The violent fit o' the time craves it as physic 
For the whole state, I would put mine arnjour op, 
Whicji I can scarcely bear. 

What must I do? 

Wolumnfa. 297 



Return to the tribunes. 



What thm? what then? 


Repent what you have spoke. 


For them ? I cannot do it to the gods ; 
Must I then do 't to them? 


You are too absolute: 
Though therein you can never be too noble. 
But when extremities speak. 

I pr'ythee now, my son. 
Go to them, with this bonnet in thy hand ; 
And thus far having stretch'd it (here be with 

Thy knee bussing the stones (for in such business 
Action is eloquence, and the eyes of the ignorant 
More learned than the ears), waving thy head. 
Which often — thus — correcting thy stout heart, 
Now humble, as the ripest mulberry. 
That will not hold the handling: Or, say to them, 
Thou art their soldier, and being bred in broils. 
Hast not tpe soft way, which, thou dost confess. 
Were fit for thee to use, as they to claim, 
In asking their good loves ; but thou wilt frame 
Thyself, forsooth, hereafter theirs, so far 
As thou hast power, and person. 

298 Sbafiespeate's Ibetoines. 


This but done, 
Even as she speaks, why all their hearts were yours : 
For they have pardons, being ask'd, as free 
As words to little purpose. 


Pr'ythee now. 
Go, and be rul'd: although I know- thou hadst 

Follow thine enemy in a fiery gulf 
Than flatter him in a bower. 


Only fair speech. 


I think 'twill serve, if he 
Can thereto frame his spirit. 


He must, and will:— 
Pr'ythee, now, say you will, and go about it. 


Must I go show them my unbarb'd sconce? Must I 
With my base tongue give to my noble heart 
A lie, that it must bear? Well, I will do 't: 
Yet were there but this single plot to lose. 
This mould of Marcius, they to dust should grind it. 
And throw it against the wind. — To the market- 
place : 
You have put me now to such a part, which never 
I shall discharge to the life. 


I pr'ythee now, sweet son; as thou hast said. 
My praises made thee first a soldier, so. 
To have my praise for this, perform a part 
Thou hast not done before. 

IDoIumnfa. 299 


Well, I must do 't; 
Away, my disposition, and possess me 
Some harlot's spirit! 

I will not do 't; 
Lest I surcease to honour mine own truth. 
And, by my body's action, teach my mind 
A most inherent baseness. 


At thy choice, then: 
To beg of thee, it is my more dishonour. 
Than thou of them. Come all to ruin ; let 
Thy mother rather feel thy pride, than fear 
Thy dangerous stoutness ; for I mock at death 
With as big heart as thou. Do as thou list. 
Thy valiantness was mine, thou suck'dst it from me ; - 
But owe thy pride thyself. 


Pray be content. 
Mother, I am going to the tnarket-place — 
Chide me no more. 

When the spirit of the mother and the son 
are brought into immediate collision, he yields 
before her: the warrior who stemmed alone the 
whole city of Corioli, who was ready to face "the 
steep Tarpeian death, or at wild horses' heels, 
— ^vagabond exile — ^flaying," rather than abate 
one jot of his proud will — shrinks at her rebuke. 
The haughty, fiery, overbearing temperament of 
Coriolanus is drawn in such forcible and strik- 
ing colors, that nothing can more impress us with 
the real grandeur and power of Volumnia's char- 
acter than his boundless submission to her will 
— ^his more than filial tenderness and respect. *'-^ 

300 Sbnheevc&te'B t)ecoines. 

You gods! I prate, 
And the most noble mother of the world 
Leave unsaluted. Sink my knee i' the earth; 
Of thy deep duty more impression show 
Than that of common sons. 

When his mother appears before him as a sup- 
pliant, he exclaims, 

My mother bows; 
As if Olympus to a molehill should 
In supplication nod. 

Here the expression of reverence and the mag- 
nificent image in which it is clothed, are equally 
characteristic both of the mother and the son. 

Her aristocratic haughtiness is a strong trait 
in Volumnia's manner and character, and her su- 
preme contempt for the plebeians, whether they 
are to be defied or cajoled, is very like what I 
have heard expressed by some high-born and 
high-bred women of our own day. 

I muse my mother 
Does not approve me further, who was wont 
To call them woollen vassals; things created 
To buy and sell with groats ; to show bare heads 
In congregations; to yawn, be still, and wonder, 
When one but of my ordinance stood up 
To speak of peace or war. 

And Volumnia reproaching the tribunes, 

'Twas you incensed the rabble: 
Cats, that can judge as fitly of his worth, 
As I can of those mysteries which Heaven 
Will not have earth to know. 

There is all the Roman spirit in her exultation 
when the trumpets sound the return of Coriola- 

IDolumnia. 301 

Hark! the trumpets! 
These are the ushers of Marcius: before him 
He carries noise, and behind him he leaves tears. 

And in her speech to the gentle Virgilia, who 
is weeping her husband's banishment — 

Leave this faint puling. And lament as I do. 
In anger — Juno-like! 

But the triumph of Volumnia's character, the 
full display of all her grandeur of soul, her pa- 
triotism, her strong afifections, and her sublime 
eloquence, are reserved for her last scene, in 
which she pleads for the safety of Rome, and 
wins from her angry son that peace which all 
the swords of Italy and her confederate arms 
could not have purchased. The strict and even 
literal adherence to the truth of history is an ad- 
ditional beauty. 

Her famous speech, beginning "Should we 
be silent and not speak," is nearly word for word 
from Plutarch, with some additional graces of 
expression, and the charm of metre superadded. 
I shall give the last lines of this address, as il- 
lustrating that noble and irresistible eloquence 
which was the crowning ornament of the char- 
acter. One exquisite touch of nature, which is 
distinguished by italics, was beyond the rheto- 
rician and historian, and belongs only to the poet. 

Speak to me, son : 
Thou hast affectwl the fine strains of honour, 
To imitate the graces of the gods; 
To tear with thunder the wide cheeks o' the air, 

302 Sbaftcspcatc's Derofnes. 

And yet to charge thy sulphur with a bolt 
That should but rive an oak. Why dost not speak? 
Think'st thou it honourable for a noble man 
Still to remember wrongs? Daughter, speak you: 
He cares not for your weeping. — Speak thou, boy; 
Perhaps, thy childishness will move him more 
Than can our reasons. There's no man in the world 
More bound to 's mother ; yet here he lets me prate 
Like one i' the stocks. Thou hast never in thy life 
Show'd thy dear mother any courtesy; 
When she (poor hen!) fond of no second brood. 
Has cluck'd thee to the wars, and safely home, 
Loaden with honour. Say my request's unjust, 
And spurn me back: but, if it be not so, 
Thou art not honest ; and the gods will plague thee, 
That thou restrain'st from me the duty, which 
To a mother's part belongs. — ^He turns away: 
Down, ladies: let us shame him with our knees. 
To his surname Coriolanus 'longs more pride 
Than pity to our prayers ; down ; fin end ; 
This is the last — so we will home to Rome, 
And die among our neighbors. — ^Nay, behold us: 
This boy, that cannot tell what he would have. 
But kneels, and holds up hands, for fellowship. 
Does reason our petition with more strength 
Than thou hast to deny 't. 

It is an instance of Shakespeare's fine judg- 
ment, that after this magnificent and touching 
piece of eloquence, which saved Rome, Volumnia 
should speak no more, for she could say nothing 
that would not deteriorate from the effect thus 
left on the imagination. She is at last dismissed 
from our admiring gaze amid the thunder of 
grateful acclamations — 

Behold our patroness — ^the life of Rome! 

Constance. SOS 


We have seen that in the mother of Coriolanus 
the principal qualities are exceeding pride, self- 
will, strong maternal affection, great power of 
imagination, and energy of temper. Precisely 
the same qualities enter into the mind of Con- 
stance of Bretagne; but in her these qualities 
are so differently modified by circumstances and 
education, that not even in fancy do we think of 
. instituting a comparison between the Gothic gran- 
deur of Constance and the more severe and clas- 
sical dignity of the Roman matron. 

The scenes and circumstances with which 
Shakespeare has surrounded Constance are 
strictly faithful to the old chronicles, and are 
as vividly as they are accurately represented. On 
the other hand, the hints on which the character 
has been constructed are few and vague ; but the 
portrait harmonizes so wonderfully with its his- 
toric background, and with all that later re- 
searches have discovered relative to the personal 
adventures of Constance, that I have not the 
slightest doubt of its individual truth. The re- 
sult of a life of strange vicissitude; the picture 
of a tameless will, and high passions, for ever 
struggling in vain against a superior power; and 
the real situation of women in those chivalrous 

804 Sbalieepeate's fjeroinee. 

times, are placed before us in a few noble scenes. 
The manner in which Shakespeare has applied 
the scattered hints of history to the formation 
of the character, reminds us of that magician 
who collected the mangled limbs which had been 
dispersed up and down, and reunited them into 
the human form, and re-animated them with the 
breathing and conscious spirit of life. 

Constance of Bretagne was the only daugh- 
ter and heiress of Conan IV., Duke of Bretagne; 
her mother was Margaret of Scotland, the eld- 
est daughter of Malcolm IV. : but little mention 
is made of this princess in the old histories. She 
appears to have inherited some portion of the 
talent and spirit of her father, and to have trans- 
mitted them to her daughter. The misfortunes 
of Constance may be said to have commenced 
before her birth, and took their rise in the miscon- 
duct of one of her female ancestors. Her great- 
grandmother Matilda, the wife of Conan III., 
was distinguished by her beauty and imperious 
temper, and not less by her gallantries. Her 
husband, not thinking proper to repudiate her 
during his lifetime, contented himself with dis- 
inheriting her son Hoel, whom he declared il- 
legitimate, and bequeathed his dukedom to his 
daughter Bertha, and her husband, Allan the 
Black, Earl of Richmond, who were proclaimed 
and acknowledged Duke and Duchess of Bre- 

Prince Hoel, so far from acquiescing in his fa- 
ther's will, immediately levied an army to main- 
tain his rights, and a civil war ensued between 

Constance. 305 

the brother and sister, which lasted for twelve 
or fourteen years. Bertha, whose reputation was 
not much fairer than that of her mother, Ma- 
tilda, was succeeded by her son Conan IV.; he 
was young, and of a feeble, vacillating temper, 
and, after struggling for a few years against the 
increasing power of his uncle Hoel and his own 
rebellious barons, he called in the aid of that 
politic and ambitious monarch, Henry II. of 
England. This fatal step decided the fate of his 
crown and his posterity; from the moment the 
English set foot in Bretagne, that miserable coun- 
try became a scene of horrors and crimes — op- 
pression and perfidy on the one hand, unavailing 
struggles on the other. Ten years of civil dis- 
cord ensued, during which the greatest part of 
Bretagne was desolated, and nearly a third of the 
population carried off by famine and pestilence. 
In the end, Conan was secured in the possession 
of his throne by the assistance of the English 
king, who, equally subtle and ambitious, con- 
trived in the course of this warfare to strip Conan 
of most of his provinces by successive treaties, 
alienate the Breton nobles from their lawful sov- 
ereign, and at length render the Duke himself 
the mere vassal of his power. 

In the midst of these scenes of turbulence and 
bloodshed was Constance born, in 1164. The 
English king consummated his perfidious scheme 
of policy, by seizing on the person of the infant 
princess, before she was three years old, as a hos- 
tage for her father. Afterwards, by contracting 
her in marriage to his third son, Goeffrey Plan- 

306 Sbaftespearc'fl ticvoines, 

tagenet, he ensured, as he thought, the possession 
of the duchy of Bretagne to his own posterity. 

From this time we hear no more of the weak, 
unhappy Conan, who, retiring from a fruitless 
contest, hid himself in some obscure retreat : even " 
the date of his death is unknown. Meanwhile 
Henry openly claimed the duchy in behalf of his ' 
son Geoffrey and the Lady Constance; and their 
claims not being immediately acknowledged, he 
invaded Bretagne with a large army, laid waste, 
the country, bribed or forced some of the barons . 
into submission, murdered or imprisoned others, 
and, by the most treacherous and barbarous pol- 
icy, contrived to keep possession of the country' 
he had thus seized. However, in order to sat- 
isfy the Bretons, who were attached to the race 
of their ancient sovereigns, and to give some 
color to his usurpation, he caused Geoffrey and . 
Constance to be solemnly crowned, at Rennes, 
as Duke and Duchess of Bretagne. This was in 
the year 1169, when Constance was five, and 
Prince Goeffrey about eight years old. His fa- 
ther, Henry, continued to rule, or rather to ravage 
and oppress the country in their name, for about, 
fourteen years, during which period we do not. 
hear of Constance. She appears to have been kept 
in a species of constraint as a hostage rather than _ 
a sovereign ; while her husband Geoffrey, as he 
grew up to manhood, was too much engaged in 
keeping the Bretons in order and disputing his 
rights with his father, to think about the com- 
pletion of his union with Constance, although his 
sole title to the dukedom was properly and legally 

Constance. 307 

in right of his wife. At length, in 1182, the nup- 
tials were formally celebrated, Constance being 
then in her nineteenth year. At the same time 
she was recognized as Duchess of Bretagne de 
son chef (that is, in her own right) by two acts 
of legislation, which are still preserved among 
the records of Bretagne, and bear her own seal 
and signature. 

Those domestic feuds which embittered the 
whole life of Henry II., and at length broke his 
heart, are well known. Of all his sons, who were 
in continual rebellion against him, Geoffrey was 
the most undutif ul, and the most formidable ; 
he had all the pride of the Plantagenets, — all 
the warlike accomplishments of his two elder 
brothers, Henry and Richard; and was the only 
one who could compete with his father in talent, 
eloquence, and dissimulation. No sooner was he 
the husband of Constance, and in possession of 
the throne of Bretagne, than he openly opposed 
his father; in other words, he maintained the 
•honor and interests of his wife and her unhappy 
country against the cruelties and oppression of 
the English plunderers. About three years after 
his marriage, he was invited to Paris, for the pur- 
'pose of concluding a league, offensive and de- 
fensive, with the French king; in this journey he 
was accompanied by the Duchess Constance, and 
they were received and entertained with royal 
magnificence. Geoffrey, who excelled in all chi- 
valrous accomplishments, distinguished himself in 
the tournaments which were celebrated on the 
occasion; but unfortunately, after an encounter 

308 Sbalfteepeate'0 Detoinea. 

with a French knight celebrated for his prowess, 
he was accidentally flung from his horse, and 
trampled to death in the lists before he could be 

Constance, being now left a widow, returned 
to Bretagne, where her barons rallied round her, 
and acknowledged her as their sovereign. The 
Salique law did not prevail in Bretagne, and it 
appears that in those times the power of a fe- 
male to possess and transmit the rights of sov- 
ereignty had been recognized in several instances ; 
but Constance is the first woman who exercised 
those rights in her own person. She had one 
daughter, Elinor, born in the second year of her 
marriage, and a few months after her husband's 
death she gave birth to a son. The states of . 
Bretagne were filled with exultation; they re- 
quired that the infant prince should not bear the 
name of his father, — a name which Constance, 
in fond remembrance of her husband, would 
have bestowed on him, — still less that of his 
grandfather Henry; but that of Arthur, the re- 
doubted hero of their country, whose memory 
was worshipped by the populace. Though the 
Arthur of romantic and fairy legends — ^the Ar- 
thur of the round table — had been dead for six 
centuries, they still looked for his second appear- 
ance among them, according to the prophecy of 
Merlin; and now, with fond and short-sighted 
enthusiasm, fixed their hopes on the young Ar- 
thur as one destined to redeem the glory and in- 
dependence of their oppressed and miserable 
country. But in the very midst of the rejoicings 

Constance. 309 

which succeeded the birth of the prince, his 
grandfather, Henry II., demanded to have the 
possession and guardianship of his person; and 
on the spirited refusal of Constance to yield 
her son into his power, he invaded Bretagne with 
a large army, plundering, burning, devastating 
the country as he advanced; he seized Rennes, 
the capital, and having by the basest treachery 
obtained possession of the persons both of the 
young duchess and her children, he married Con- 
stance forcibly to one of his own favorite adher- 
ents, Randal de Blondeville, Earl of Chester, and 
conferred on him the duchy of Bretagne, to be 
held as a fief of the English crown. 

The Earl of Chester, though a brave knight, 
and one of the greatest barons of England, had 
no pretensions to so high an alliance ; nor did he 
possess any qualities or personal accomplishments 
which might have reconciled Constance to him 
as a husband. He was a man of diminutive 
stature and mean appearance, but of haughty and 
ferocious manners and unbounded ambition.^' In 
a conference between this Earl of Chester and 
the Earl of Perche, in Lincoln Cathedral, the lat- 
ter taunted Randal with his insignificant person, 
and called him, contemptuously, "Dwarf." "Sayst 
thou so?" replied Randal; "I vow to God and 
our Lady, whose church this is, that ere long I 
will seem to thee high as that steeple !" He was 
as good as his word, when, on ascending the 

"Sir Peter Leycester's "Antiquities of Oiester." 

310 SbaKeepeate's iberoines. 

throne of Brittany, the Earl of Perche became his 

We cannot know what measures were used to 
force this degradation on the reluctant and high- 
spirited Constance; it is only certain that she 
never considered her marriage in the light of a 
sacred obligation, and that she took the first op- 
portunity of legally breaking from a chain which 
could scarcely be considered as legally binding. 
For about a year she was obliged to allow this 
. detested husband the title of Duke of Bre- 
tagne, and he administered the government with- 
out the slightest reference to her will, even in 
form, till 1 189, when H^nry II. died, execrating 
himself and his undutiful children. Whatever 
great and good qualities this monarch may have 
possessed, his conduct in Bretagne was uniformly 
detestable. Even the unfilial behavior of his sons 
may be extenuated; for while he spent his life, 
and sacrificed his peace, and violated every prin- 
ciple of honor and humanity to compass their 
political aggrandizement, he was guilty of atro- 
cious injustice towards them, and set them a bad 
example in his own person. 

The tidings of Henry's death had no sooner 
reached Bretagne than the barons of that country 
rose with one accord against his government, 
banished or massacred his oificers, and, sanctioned 
by the Duchess Constance, drove Randal de 
Blondeville and his followers from Bretagne: he 
retired to his earldom of Chester, there to brood 
over his injuries and meditate vengeance. 

In the meantime Richard I. ascended the Eng- 

Constance. 311 

Hsh throne. Soon afterwards he embarked on 
his celebrated expedition to the Holy Land, hav- 
ing previously declared Prince Arthur, the only 
son of Constance, heir to all his dominions.*^ 

His absence, and that of many of her own tur- 
bulent barons and encroaching neighbors, left to 
Constance and her harassed dominions a short 
interval of profound peace. The historians of 
that period, occupied by the warlike exploits of 
the French and English kings in Palestine, make 
but little mention of the domestic events of Eu- 
rope during their absence ; but it is no slight en- 
comium on the character of Constance, that Bre- 
tagne flourished under her government, and be- 
gan to recover from the effects of twenty years 
of desolating war. The seven years during which 
she ruled as an independent sovereign were not 
marked by any events of importance; but in the 
year 1196 she caused her son Arthur, then nine 
years of age, to be acknowledged Duke of Bre- 
tagne by the States, and associated him with her- 
self in all the acts of government. 

There was more of maternal fondness than 
policy in this measure, and it cost her dear. Rich- 
ard, that royal firebrand, had now returned to 
England : by the intrigues and representations of 
Earl Randal his attention was turned to Bretagne. 
He expressed extreme indignation that Constance 
should have proclaimed her son Duke of Bre- 
tagne, and her partner in power, without his con- 
sent, he being the feudal lord and natural guard- 

"By the Treaty o£ Messina, iigo. 

312 Sbatiespeate's Ibetoines. 

ian of the young prince. After some excuses 
and representations on the part of Constance he 
affected to be pacified, and a friendly interview 
was appointed at Pontorson, on the frontiers of 

We can hardly reconcile the cruel and per- 
fidious scenes which follow with those romantic 
and chivalrous associations which illustrate the 
memory of Coeur de Lion — ^the friend of Blpn- 
del, and the antagonist of Saladin. Constance, 
perfectly unsuspicious of the meditated treason, 
accepted the invitation of her brother-in-law, and 
set out from Rennes with a small but magnificent 
retinue to join him at Pontorson. On the road, 
and within sight of the town, the Earl of Ches- 
ter was posted with a troop of Richard's sol- 
diery, and while the duchess prepared to enter 
the gates, where she expected to be received with 
honor and welcome, he suddenly rushed from his 
ambuscade, fell upon her and her suite, put the 
latter to flight, and carried off Constance to the 
strong castle of St. Jaques de Beuvron, where 
he detained her a prisoner for eighteen months. 
The chronicle does not tell us how Randal treated 
his unfortunate wife during this long imprison- 
ment. She was absolutely in his power ; none of 
her own people were suffered to approach her, 
and whatever might have been his behavior tor- 
wards her, one thing alone is certain, that so far 
from softening her feelings towards him, it seems 
to have added ten-fold bitterness to her abhor- 
rence and her scorn. 

The barons of Bretagne sent the Bishop of 

Constance. 313 

Rennes to complain of this violation of faith and 
justice, and to demand the restitution of the 
duchess. Richard meanly evaded and tempor- 
ized: he engaged to restore Constance to liberty 
on certain conditions ; but this was merely to gain 
time. When the stipulated terms were complied 

, with, and the hostages delivered, the Bretons sent 
a herald to the English king to require him to 

■ fulfil his part of the treaty, and restore their be- 
loved Constance. Richard replied, with insolent 
defiance, refused to deliver up either the hostages 
or Constance, mid marched his army into the 
heart of the country. 

All that Bretagne had suffered previously was 
as nothing compared to this terrible invasion; 
and all that the humane and peaceful governinent 
of Constance had effected during seven years 
was at once annihilated. The English barons 
and their savage and mercenary followers spread 

. themselves through the country, which they 
wasted with fire and sword. The castles of those 
who ventured to defend themselves were razed 
to the ground ; the towns and villages plundered 
and burnt, and the wretched inhabitants fled to 
the caves and forests ; but not even there could 
they find an asylum: by the orders, and in the 
presence of Richard, the woods were set on fire, 
and hundreds either perished in the flames or 
were suffocated in the smoke. 

Constance, meanwhile, could only weep In her 
captivity over the miseries of her country, and 
tremble with all a mother's fears for the safety 
of her son. She had placed Arthur under the 

314 Sbalteepeate's t>ecofnes. 

care of William Desroches, the seneschal of her 
palace, a man of mature age, of approved valor, 
and devotedly attached to her family. This 
faithful servant threw himself, with his young 
charge, into the fortress of Brest, where he for 
some time defied the power of the English king. 

But notwithstanding the brave resistance of 
the nobles and people of Bretagne, they were 
obliged to submit to the conditions imposed by 
Richard. By a treaty concluded in 1198, of 
which the terms are not exactly known, Con- 
stance was delivered from her captivity, though 
not from her husband ; but in the following year, 
when the death of Richard had restored her to 
some degree of independence, the first use she 
made of it was to divorce herself from Randal. 
She took this step with her usual precipitancy, 
not waiting for the sanction of the Pope, as was 
the custom in those days; and soon afterwards 
she gave her hand to Guy, Count de Thouars, 
a man of courage and integrity, who for some 
time maintained the cause of his wife and her 
son against the power of England. Arthur was, 
now fourteen, and the legitimate heir of all the 
dominions of his uncle Richard. Constance 
placed him under the guardianship of the King 
of France, who knighted the young prince with 
his own hand, and solemnly swore to defend his 
rights against his usurping uncle, John. 

It is at this moment that the play of "King 
John" opens ; and history is followed, as closely 
as the dramatic form would allow, to the death 
of John. The real fate of poor Arthur, after he 

Constance. 316 

had been abandoned by the French, and had falko 
into the hands of his uncle, is now ascertained; 
but according to the chronicle from which Shake- 
speare drew his materials, he was killed in at- 
tempting to escape from the castle of Falaise. 
Constance did not live to witness this consununa- 
tion of her calamities : within a few months after 
Arthur was taken prisoner, in 1201, she died 
suddenly, before she had attained her thirty- 
ninth year; but the cause of her death is not 

. Her eldest daughter, Elinor, the legitimate 
heiress of England, Normandy, and Bretagne, 
died in captivity; having been kept a prisoner 
in Bristol Castle from the age of fifteen. She 
was at that time so beautiful, that she was called 
proverbially, "La belle Bretonne," and by the 
English the "Fair Maid of Brittany." She, like 
her brother Arthur, was sacrificed to the am- 
bition of her uncles. 

Of the two daughters of Coiistance by Guy 
de Thouars, the eldest, Alice, became Duchras 
of Bretagne, and married the Count de Dreux, 
of the royal blood of France. The sovereigaty 
of Bretagne was transmitted through her de- 
scendants in an uninterrupted line, till, by the 
marriage of the celebrated Anne de Bretagne 
with Charles VIII. of France, her dominions 
were for ever united with the French monarchy. 

In considering the real history of Ccmstance,. 
three things must strike us as chiefly remark- 

First, that she is not accused of any vice, or 

316 Sbafteapearc's Iberolnes. 

any act of injustice or violence; and this praise, 
though poor and negative, should have its due 
weight, considering the scanty records that 're- 
main of her troubled life and the period at which 
she lived — a. period in which crimes of the dark- 
est dye were familiar occurrences. Her father, 
Conan, was considered as a gentle and amiable 
prince — "gentle even to feebleness;" yet we are 
told that on one occasion he acted over again 
the tragedy of Ugolino and Ruggiero, when he 
shut up the Count de Dol, with his two sons and 
his nephew, in a dungeon, and deliberately 
starved them to death; an event recorded with- 
out any particular comment by the old chroniclers 
of Bretagne. It also appears that during those 
intervals when Constance administered the gov- 
ernment of her states with some degree of in- 
dependence, the country prospered under her 
sway; and that she possessed at all times the 
love of her people and the respect of her nobles. 

Secondly, no imputation whatever has been 
cast on the honor of Constance as a wife and as 
a woman. The old historians, who have treated 
in a very unceremonious style the levities of her - 
great-grandmother Matilda, her grandmother 
Bertha, her godmother Constance, and her 
mother-in-law Elinor, treat the name and mem- 
ory of our Lady Constance with uniform respect. 

Her third marriage, with Guy De Thouars, - 
has been censured as impolitic, but has also been 
defended : it can hardly, considering her age and 
the circumstances in which she was placed, be 
a just subject of reproach. During her hated 

Constance. 317 

union with Randal de Blondeville, and the years 
passed in a species of widowhood, she conducted 
herself with propriety : at least I can find no rea- 
son to judge otherwise. 

Lastly, we are struck by the fearless, deter- 
mined spirit, amounting at times to rashness, 
which Constance displayed on several occasions, 
when left to the free exercise of her own power 
and will; yet we see how frequently, with all 
this resolution and pride of temper, she became 
a mere instrument in the hands of others, and a 
victim to the superior craft or power of her ene- 
mies. The inference is unavoidable; there must 
have existed in the mind of Constance, with all 
her noble and amiable qualities, a deficiency 
somewhere, — a want of firmness, a want of judg- 
ment or wariness, and a total want of self-con- 

In the play of "King John," the three prin- 
cipal characters are the King, Falconbridge, and 
Lady Constance. The first is drawn forcibly 
and accurately from history; it reminds us of. 
Titian's portrait of Caesar Borgia, in which the . 
hatefulness of the subject is redeemed by the 
masterly skill of the artist, — the truth, and power, 
and wonderful beauty of the execution. Falcon- 
bridge is the spirited creation of the poet.^' Con- 

"Malone says, that, "in expanding the character of 
the* bastard, Shakespeare seems to have proceeded on 
the following slight hint in an old play on the story of 
King John: 

318 Sbaftespeate's Ibetofnea. 

stance is certainly an historical personage; but 
the form which, when we meet it on the record 
of history, appears like a pale, indistinct shadow, 
half melted into its obscure background, starts 
before us into a strong relief and palpable, breath- 
ing reality upon the page of Shakespeare. 

Whenever we think of Constance, it is in her 
maternal character. All the interest which she 
excites in the drama turns upon her situation as 
the mother of Arthur. Every circumstance in 
which she is placed, every sentiment she utters, 
has a reference to him; and she is represented 
through the whole of the scenes in which she is 
engaged, as alternately pleading for the rights 
and trembling for the existence of her son. 

The same may be said of the Merope. In the 
four tragedies of whjch her story forms the sub- 
ject,^' we see her but in one point of view, namely, 
as a mere impersonation of the maternal feeling. 
The poetry of the situation is everything, the 
character nothing. Interesting as she is, take 
Merope out of the circumstances in which she is 

Next them a bastard of the king's deceased — 
A hardy wild-head, rough and venturous." 

It is easy to say this; yet who but Shakespeare could 
have expanded the last line into a Falconbridge ? 

"The Greek "Merope," which was esteemed one of 
the finest of the'tragedies of Euripides, is unhappily lost ; 
those of Maffei, Alfieri, and Voltaire, are well known. 
There is another "Merope," in Italian, which I have not 
seen : the English "Merope" is merely a bad translation 
from Voltaire. 

Conetance. 319 

placed, — take away her son, for whom she trem- 
blek from the first scene to the last, and Merope 
in herself is nothing ; she melts away into a name, 
to which we can affix no other characteristic by 
which to distinguish her. We recognize her no 
longer. Her position is that of an agonized 
mother; and we can no more fancy her under a 
different aspect, than we can imagine the statue 
of Niobe in a different attitude. 

But while we contemplate the character of Con- 
stance, she assumes before us an individuality 
perfectly distinct from the circumstances around ' 
her. The action calls forth her maternal feel- 
ings, and places them in the most prominent point 
of view; but with Constance, as with a real hu- 
man being, the maternal affections are a power- 
ful instinct, modified by other faculties, senti- 
ments, and impulses, making up the individual 
character. We think of her as a mother, be- 
cause, as a mother distracted for the loss of her 
son, she is immediately presented before us, and 
calls forth our sympathy and our tears; but we 
infer the rest of her character from what we- 
see, as certainly and as completely as if we had 
kiiown her whole course of life. 

That which strikes us as the principal attri- 
bute of Constance is power — ^power of imagina- 
tion, of will, of passion, of affection, of pride: 
the moral energy, that faculty which is princi- ' 
pally exercised in self-control, and gives con- 
sistency to the rest, is deficient; or rather, to 
speak more correctly, the extraordinary develop- 
ment of sensibility and imagination, which lends 

320 Sbal5C0peatc's "fceroines. 

to the character its rich poetical coloring, leaves 
the other qualities comparatively subordinate. 
Hence it is that the whole complexion of the 
character, notwithstanding its amazing graip- 
deur, is so exquisitely feminine. The weakness 
of the woman, who by the very consciousness of 
that weakness is worked up to desperation and 
defiance — the fluctuations of temper, and the 
bursts of sublime passion, the terrors, the im- 
patience, and the tears, are all most true to fem- 
inine nature. The energy of Constance, not be- 
ing based upon strength of character, rises and 
falls with the tide of passion. Her haughty spirit 
swells against resistance, and is excited into 
frenzy by sorrow and disappointment; while 
neither from her towering pride nor her strength 
of intellect can she borrow patience to submit 
or fortitude to endure. It is, therefore, with 
perfect truth of nature, that Constance is first 
introduced as pleading for peace : 

Stay for an answer to your embassy, 
Lest unadvis'd you stain your swords with blood. 
My Lord Chatillon may from England bring 
That right in peace, which here we urge in war; 
And then we shall repent each drop of blood 
That hot rash haste so indirectly shed. 

And that the same woman, when all her passions 
are roused by the sense of injury, should after- 
wards exclaim. 

War, war ! No peace ! peace is to me a war ! 

Constance. 321 

that she sKouId be ambitious for her son, proud of 
his high birth and royal rights, and violent in de- 
fending them, is most natural; but I cannot 
agree with those who think that in the mind of 
Constance, ambition — that is, the love of domin- 
ion for its own sake — Is either a strong motive 
or a strong feeling: it could hardly be so where 
the natural impulses and the ideal power predom- 
inate in so high a degree. The vehemence with 
which she asserts the just and legal rights of her 
son is that of a fond mother and a proud-spirited 
woman, stung with the sense of injury, and her- 
self a reigning sovereign — ^by birth and right, if 
not in fact : yet when bereaved of her son, grief 
not only "fills the room up of her absent child," 
but seems to absorb every other faculty and feel- 
ing — even pride and anger. It is true that she 
exults over him as one whom nature and fortune 
had destined to be great, but in her distraction 
for his loss she thinks of him only as her "pretty 

O lord ! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son ! 
My life, my joy, my food, ray all the world! 
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows' cure! 

No other feeling can be traced through the whole 
of her frantic scene: it is grief only, a mother's 
heart-rending, soul-absorbing grief, and nothing 
else. Not even indignation, or the desire of re- 
venge, interfere with its soleness and intensity. 
An ambitious woman would hardly have thus 
addressed the cold, wily Cardinal : 

322 Sbaftcspeare'B Ibetofncs. 

And, Father Cardinal, I have heard you say, 

That we shall see and know our friends in heaven: 

If that be true, I shall see my boy again; 

For, since the birth of Cain, the first male child. 

To him that did but yesterday suspire. 

There was not such a gracious creature born; 

But now will canker — sorrow eat my bud. 

And chase the native beauty from his cheek. 

And he will look as hollow as a ghost; 

As dim and meagre as an ague's fit ; 

And so he'll die; and, rising so again. 

When I shall meet him in the court of heaven 

I shall not know him : therefore never, never 

Must I behold my pretty Arthur more. 

The bewildered pathos and poetry of this ad- 
dress could be natural in no woman who did not 
unite, like Constance, the most passionate sen- 
sibility with the most vivid imagination. 

It is true that Queen Elinor calls her on one 
occasion "ambitious Constance;" but the epithet 
is rather the natural expression of Elinor's own 
fear and hatred than really applicable.''" Elinor, 
in whom age had subdued all passions but am- 
bition, dreaded the mother of Arthur as her rival 
in power, and for that reason only opposed the 
claims of the son : but I conceive, that in a woman 
yet in the prime of life, and endued with the pe- 
culiar disposition of Constance, the mere love of 
power would be too much modified by fancy and 
feeling to be called a passion. 

In fact, it is not pride, nor temper, nor ambi- 

" "Queen Elinor saw that if he were king, how his 
mother Constance would look to bear the most rule in 
the realm of England, till her son should come to a 
lawful age to govern himself." — Holinshed. 

Constance. 323 

tion, nor even maternal affection, which in Con- 
stance gives the prevailing tone to the whole char- 
acter; it is the predominance of imagination. I 
do not mean in the conception of the dramatic 
portrait, but in the temperament of the woman 
herself. In the poetical, fanciful, excitable cast 
of her nriad, in the excess of the ideal power, 
tinging all her affections, exalting all her sen- 
timents and thoughts, and animating the expres- 
sion of both, Constance can only be compared to 

In the first place, it is through the power of 
imagination that, when under the influence of 
excited temper, Constance is not a mere incensed 
woman: nor does she, in the style of Volumnia, 
"lament in anger, Juno-like," but rather like a 
sibyl in a fury. Her sarcasms come down like 
thunderbolts. In her famous address to Aus- 
tria — 

O Lymoges! O Austria! thou dost shame 
That bloody spoil ! thou slave ! thou wretch ! thou cow- 
ard, &C. 

it is as if she had concentrated the burning spirit 
of scorn, and dashed it in his face; every v/ord 
seems to Mister where it falls. In the scolding 
scene between her and Queen Elinor, the laconic 
insolence of the latter is completely overborne 
by the torrent of bitter contumely which bursts 
from the lips of Constance, clothed in the most 
energetic, and often in the most figurative ex- 
pressions : 

324 Sbafieepeate's Ibetofnea. 


Who is it thou dost call usurper, France? 


Let me make answer; Thy usurping son. 


Out, insolent ! thy bastard shall be king ; 

That thou may'st be a queen, and check the world! 


My bed was ever to thy son as true. 

As thine was to thy husband ; and this boy 

Liker in feature to his father Geoffrey, 

Than thou and John in manners; being as like 

As rain to water, or devil to his dam. 

My boy a bastard! By my soul, I think, 

His father never was so true begot; 

It cannot be, an if thou wert his mother. 


There's a good mother, boy, that blots thy father. 


There's a good grandam, boy, that would blot thee. 


Come to thy grandam, child! 


Do, child ; go to it' grandam, child : 
Give grandam kingdom, and it' grandam will 
Give it a plum, a cherry, and a fig: ; 
There's a good grandam. 


Good my mother, peace! 
I would that I were laid in my grave : 
I am not worth this coil that's made for me. 

Constance. 325 


His mother shames him so, poor boy, he weeps. 


Now shame upon you, whe'r she does or no! 

His grandam's wrongs, and not his mother's shames. 

Draw those heaven-moving pearls from his poor 

Which heaven shall take in nature of a fee; 
Ay, with these crystal beads heaven shall be brib'd 
To do him justice, and revenge on you. 


Thou monstrous slanderer of heaven and earth! 


Thou monstrous injurer of heaven and earth! 
Call not me slanderer; thou, and thine, usurp 
The dominations, royalties, and rights. 
Of this oppressed boy. This is thy eldest son's son, 
Infortunate in nothing but in thee. 


Thou unadvised scold, I can produce 
A will that bars the title of thy son. 


Ay, who doubts that? A will! a wicked will* 
A woman's will ; a canker'd grandam's will. 


Peace, lady: pause, or be more moderate. 

And in a very opposite mood, when struggling 
with the consciousness of her own helpless sit- 
uation, the same susceptible and excitable fancy 
still predominates : 

326 Sbaftespcare'0 t>erofnes. 

Thou shalt be punish'd for thus frighting me, 

For I am sick, and capable of fears. 

Oppress'd with wrongs, and therefore full of fears; 

A widow, husbandless, subject to fears; 

A woman, naturally born to fears ; 

And though thou now confess thou didst but jest 

With my vex'd spirits, I cannot take a truce. 

But they will quake and tremble all this day. 

What dost thou mean by shaking of thy head? 

Why dost thou look so sadly on my son? 

What means that hand upon that breast of thine? 

Why holds thine eye that lamentable rheum. 

Like a proud river peering o'er his bounds? 

Be these sad signs confirmers of thy words? 

Fellow, be gone; I cannot brook thy sight; 
This news hath made thee a most ugly man. 

It is the power of imagination which gives 
so peculiar a tinge to the maternal tenderness of 
Constance; she not only loves her son with the 
fond instinct of a mother's affection, but she loves 
him with her poetical imagination, exults in 
his beauty and his royal birth, hangs over 
him with idolatry, and sees his infant brow al- 
ready encircled with the diadem. Her proud 
spirit, her ardent, enthusiastic fancy, and her en- 
ergetic self-will, all combine with her maternal 
love to give it that tone and character which be- 
longs to her only: hence that most beautiful ad- 
dress to her son, which, coming from the lips of 
Constance, is as full of nature and truth as of 
pathos and poetry, and which we could hardly 
sympathize with in any other : 

Constance. 327 


I do beseech you, madam, be content 


If thou, that bidd'st me be content, wert grim. 
Ugly, and sland'rous to thy mother's womb. 
Full of unpleasing blots and sightless stains. 
Lame, foolish, crooked, swart, prodigious, 
Patch'd with foul moles, and eye-offending marks, 
I would not care — I then would be content; 
For then I should not love thee ; no, nor thou 
Become thy great girth, nor deserve a crown. 
But thou art fair ; and at thy birth, dear boy ! 
Nature and Fortune join'd to make thee great: 
Of Nature's gifts thou may'st with lilies boast, 
And with the half-blown rose. But Fortune, O ! 
She is corrupted, chang'd, and won from thee; 
She adulterates hourly with thine uncle John; 
And with her golden hand hath pluck'd on France 
To tread down fair respect of sovereignty. 

It is this exceeding vivacity of imagination 
which in the end turns sorrow to frenzy. Con- 
stance is not only a bereaved and doting mother, 
but a generous woman, betrayed by her own rash 
confidence, in whose mind the sense of injury 
mingling with the sense of grief, and her impet- 
uous temper conflicting with her pride, combine 
to overset her reason; yet she is not mad: and 
how admirably, how forcibly, she herself draws 
the distinction between the frantic violence of 
uncontrolled feeling and actual madness! — 

Thou art not holy to belie me so ; 

I am not mad : this hair I tear is mine ; 

My name is Constance : I was Geoffrey's wife ; 

328 Sbaftespearc'a 1bcroine0. 

Young Arthur is my son, and he is lost! 
I am not mad; — ^I would to heaven, I were! 
For then, 'tis like I should forget myself: 
O ! if I could, what grief should I forget ! 

Not only has Constance words at will, and fast 
as the passionate feelings rise in her mind they 
are poured forth with vivid, overpowering elo- 
quence ; but, like Juliet, she may be said to speak 
in pictures. For instance — 

• Why holds thine eye that lamentable rheum, 
Like a proud river peering o'er his bounds? 

And throughout the whole dialogue there is 
the same overflow of eloquence, the same splen- 
dor of diction, the same luxuriance of imagery; 
yet with an added grandeur, arising from habits 
of command, from the age, the rank, and the ma- 
tronly character of Constance. Thus Juliet pours 
forth her love like a Muse in a rapture: Con- 
stance raves in her sorrow like a Pythoness pos- 
sessed with the spirit of pain. The love of Ju- 
liet is deep and infinite as the boundless sea ; the 
grief of Constance is so great, that nothing but 
the round world itself is able to sustain it 

I will instruct my sorrows to be proud ; 
For grief is proud, and makes his owner stout 
To me, and to the state of my great grief, 
• Let kings assemble; for my grief's so great, 
That no supporter but the huge firm earth 
Can hold it up : here I and Sorrow sit ; 
Here is my throne, — ^bid kings come bow to it. 

An image more majestic, more wonderfully 

Constance. 329 

sublime, was never presented to tHe fancy; yet 
almost equal as a flight of poetry is her apos- 
trophe to the heavens : 

Arm, arm, you heavens, against these perjur'd kings! 
A widow cries; — be husband to me, heavens! 

And again — 

O ! that my tongue were in the thunder's mouth ! 
Then with a passion would I shake the world ! 

Not only do her thoughts start into images, but 
her feelings become persons : grief haunts her as 
a living presence: 

Grief fills the room up of my absent child, 
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me; 
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words. 
Remembers me of all his gracious parts, 
StuflFs out his vacant garments with his form; 
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief. 

And death is welcomed as a bridegroom; she 
sees the visionary monster as Juliet saw "the 
bloody Tybalt festering in his shroud," and heaps 
one ghastly image upon another with all the wild 
luxuriance of a distempered fancy : 

O amiable lovely Death! 
Thou odoriferous stench! sound rottenness! 
Arise forth from the couch of lasting night. 
Thou hate and terror to prosperity, 
And I will kiss thy detestable bones ; 
And put my eyeballs in thy vaulty brows; 
And ring these fingers with thy household worms; 
And stop this gap of breath with fulsome dust 

330 SbaRespearc's "fcerolnes. 

And be a carrion monster like thyself: 
Come, grin on me; and I will think thou smil'st. 
And buss thee as thy wife ! Misery's love, 
O! come to me! 

CojKtaace, Wiho is a majestic being, is majestic 
in her very frenzy. Majesty is also the charac- 
teristic of Hermione; but what a difference be- 
tween her silent, lofty, uncomplaining despair, ' 
and the eloquent grief of Constance, whose wild 
lamentations, which come bursting forth clothed 
in the grandest, the most poetical imagery, not 
only melt, but absolutely electrify us ! 

On the whole, it may be said that pride and 
maternal affection form the basis of the charac- 
ter of Constance as it is exhibited to us ; but that 
these passions, in an equal degree, common to 
many human beings, assume their peculiar and 
individual tinge from an extraordinary develop- 
ment of intellect and fancy. It is the energy 
of passion which lends the character its concen- 
trated power, as it is the prevalence of imagina- 
tion throughout which dilates it" into magnifi- 

Some of the most splendid poetry to be met 
with in Shakespeare may be found in the parts 
of Juliet and Constance; the most splendid, per- 
haps, excepting only the parts of Lear and 
Othello; and for the same reason, — that Lear 
and Othello as men, and Juliet and Constance 
as women, are distinguished by the predominance 
of the same faculties — passion and imagination. 

The sole deviation from history which may 
be considered as essentially interfering with the 

Constance. 331 

truth of the situation is the entire omission of 
the character of Guy de Thouars, so that Con- 
stance is incorrectly represented as in a state 
of widowhood at a period when, in point of' 
fact, she was married. It may be observed that 
her marriage took place just at the period of the 
opening' of the drama; that Guy de Thouars' 
played no conspicuous part in the affairs of Bre- 
tagne till after the death of Constance, and that 
the mere presence of this personage, altogether 
superfluous in the action, would have completely " 
destroyed the dramatic interest of the situation:'- 
— and what a situation! One more magnificent 
was never placed before the mind's eye than that 
of Constance, when, deserted and betrayed, she 
stands alone in her despair, amid her false 
friends and her ruthless enemies 1^* The image 
of the /nother-eagle, wounded and bleeding to. 
death, yet stretched over her young in an atti- 
tude of defiance while all the baser birds of prey 
are clamoring around her eyrie, gives but a faint 
idea of the moral sublimity of this scene. Con- 
sidered merely as a poetical or dramatic picture, 
the grouping is wonderfully fine: on one side,, 
the vulture ambition of that mean-souled tyrant, 
John; on the other, the selfish, calculating pol- 
icy of Philip ; between them, balancing their pas- - 
sions in his hand, the cold, subtle, heartless 
Legate; the fiery, reckless Falconbridge ; the 
princely Louis; the still unconquered spirit of 
that wrangling queen, old Elinor; the bridal 

" King John, Act iii. scene i. 


Sba(!espeate's Ibetofnes. 

loveliness and modesty of Blanche; the boyish 
grace and innocence of young Arthur ; and Con- 
stance in the midst of them, in all the state of 
her great grief, a grand impersonation of pride 
and passion, helpless at once and desperate, — 
form an assemblage of figures, each perfect in its 
kind, and, taken all together, not surpassed for 
the variety, force, and splendor of the dramatic 
and picturesque effect. 

Queen BIfnor. 333 


Elinor of Guienne, and Blanche of Castile, 
who form part of the group around Constance, 
are sketches merely, but they are strictly his- 
torical portraits, and full of truth and spirit. 

At the period when Shakespeare has brought 
these three women on the scene together, Elinor 
of Guienne (the daughter of the last Duke of 
Guienne and Aquitaine, and, like Constance, the 
heiress of a sovereign duchy), was near the 
close of her long, various, and unquiet life — she 
was nearly seventy: and, as in early youth her 
violent passions had overborne both principle 
and policy, so, in her old age we see the same 
character, only modified by time: her strong in- 
tellect and love of power, unbridled by conscience 
or principle, surviving when other passions were 
extinguished, and rendered more dangerous by 
a degree of subtlety and self-command to which 
her youth had been a stranger. Her personal 
and avowed hatred for Constance, together with 
its motives, are mentioned by the old historians. 
Holinshed expressly says that Queen Elinor was 
mightily set against her grandson Arthur, rather 
moved thereto by envy conceived against his 
mother, than by any fault of the young prince, 
for that she knew and dreaded the high spirit 
of the Lady Constance. 

334 Sbaftespcate'6 iberolnes. 

Shakespeare has rendered this with equal spirit 
and fidelity : 


What now, my son? have I not ever said 

How that ambitious Constance would not cease. 

Till she had kindled France, and all the world 

Upon the right and party of her son. 

This might have been prevented and made whole, 

With very easy arguments of love! 

Which now the manage of two kingdoms must 

With fearful bloody issue arbitrate. 


Our strong possession, and our right for us ; 


Yoxit strong possession, much more than your right; 
Or else it must go wrong with you and me: 
So much my conscience whispers in your ear — 
Which none but Heaven, and you, and I, shall hear. 

Queen Elinor preserved to the end of her lif 
her influence over her children, and appears to 
have merited their respect. While entrusted with 
the government, during the absence of Richard I., 
she ruled with a steady hand, and made herself 
exceedingly popular; and as long as she lived 
to direct the counsels of her son John, his af- 
fairs prospered. For that intemperate jealousy 
which converted her into a domestic firebrand, . 
there was at least much cause, though little ex- 
cuse. Elinor had hated and wronged the hus- 
band of her youth,^^ and she had afterwards to 

" Louis VII. of France, whom she was accustomed to 
call, in contempt, the Monk. Elinor's adventures in 
Syria, whither she accompanied Louis on the second 
Crusade, would form a romance. 

Cineen TBllnou 335 

endure the negligence and innumerable infideli- 
ties of the husband whom she passionately 
loved ;^' — "and so the whirlygig of time brought 
in his revenges." Elinor died in 1203, a few 
months after Constance, and before the murder 
of Arthur — a crime which, had she lived, would 
probably never have been consummated ; for the 
nature of Elinor, though violent, had no tinc- 
ture of the baseness and cruelty of her son. 

"Henry II. of England. It is scarcely necessary to 
observe that the story of fair Rosamond, as far as 
Elinor is concerned, is a mere invention of some ballad- 
maker of later times. 

336 ' SbaIie£p,eace'0 f3etoinee. 


Blanche of Castile was the daughter of Al- 
phonso IX. of Castile, and the granddaughter 
of Elinor. At the time that she is introduced 
into the drama she was about fifteen, and her 
marriage with Louis VIII., then Dauphin, took 
place in the abrupt manner here represented. 
It is not often that political marriages have the 
same happy result. We are told by the historians 
of that, time that from the moment Louis and 
Blanche met, they were inspired by a mutual 
passion, and that during a union of more than 
twenty-six years, they 'were never known to dif- 
fer, nor even spent more than a single day asun- 

In her exceeding beauty and blameless rep- 
utation, her love for her husband, and strong, 
domestic affections, her pride of birth and rank, 
her feminine gentleness of deportment, her firm- 
ness of temper, her religious bigotry, her love 
of absolute power and her upright and conscien- 
tious administration of it, Blanche greatly re- 
sembled Maria Theresa of Austria. She was, 
however, of a more cold and calculating nature; 
and in proportion as she was less amiable as a 
woman did she rule more happily for herself and 

" Mezerai. 

Slancbe. 337 

others. There cannot be a greater contrast than 
between the acute understanding, the steady tem- 
per, and the cool, intriguing policy of Blanche, 
— ^by which she succeeded in disuniting and de- 
feating the powers arrayed against her and her 
infant son, — ^and the rash, confiding temper and 
susceptible imagination of Constance, which ren- 
dered herself and her son easy victims to the 
fraud or ambition of others. Blanche, during 
forty years, held in her hands the destinies of 
the greater part of Europe, and is one of the most 
celebrated names recorded in history, — ^but in 
what does she survive to us, except in a name? 
Nor history, nor fame, though "trumpet- 
tongued," could do for her what Shakespeare and 
poetry have done for Constance. The earthly 
reign of Blanche is over, her sceptre broken, and 
her power departed. When will the reign of 
Constance cease? when will her power depart? 
Not while this world is a world, and there exist 
in it human souls to kindle at the touch of genius, 
and human hearts to throb with human sym- 
pathies ! 


There is no female character of any interest 
in the play of "Richard II." The Queen (Isa- 
belle of France) enacts the same passive part 
in the drama that she does in history. 

The same remark applies to "Henry IV." In 
this admirable play there is no female character 
of any importance ; but Lady Percy, the wife of 
Hotspur, is a very lively and beautiful sketch: 
she is sprightly, feminine, and fond, but without 

338 Sbaf:e0peare's tberoinea. 

anything energetic of profound, in mind or in 
feeling. Her gaiety and spirit in the first scenes 
are the result of youth and happiness, and noth- 
ing can be more natural than the utter dejection 
and brokenness of heart which follow her hus- ' 
band's death: she is no heroine for war or trag- 
edy ; she has not thought of revenging her loss ; ' 
and even her grief has something soft and quiet 
in its pathos. Her speech to her father-in-law, 
Northumberland, in which she entreats him "not. 
to go to the wars," and at the same time pro- 
nounces the most beautiful eulogium on her he- 
roic husband, is a perfect piece of feminine elo- 
quence, both in the feeling and in the expression. 
Almost every one knows by heart Lady Per-- 
cy's celebrated address to her husband, begin- 

O, my good lord, why are you thus alone? 

and that of Portia to Brutus, in "Julius Caesar," 

You have ungently, Brutus, . 

Stole from my bed. ' 

The situation is exactly similar, the topics of 
remonstance are nearly the same ; the sentiments 
and the style as opposite as are the characters 
of the two women. Lady Percy is evidently ac-' 
customed to win more from her fiery lord by ca- ' 
resses than by reason: he loves her in his rough 
way, "as Harry Percy's wife," but she has no 
real influence over him; he has no confidence in 

3ISIancbe. 339 


In faith, 
I'll know your business, Harry, that I will. 
I fear, my brother Mortimer doth stir 
About his title ; and hath sent for you. 
To line his enterprise, but if you go ' 


So far afoot, I shall be weary, love! 

The whole scene is admirable, but unnecessary 
here, because it illustrates no point of character 
in her. Lady Percy has no character, properly 
so called ; whereas that of Portia is very distinctly 
and faithfully drawn from the outline furnished 
by Plutarch, Lady Percy's fond upbraidings,, 

■ and her half playful, half pouting entreaties, 
scarcely gain her husband's attention. Portia, 
with true matronly dignity and tenderness, pleads 

. her right to share her husband's thoughts, and 
proves it, too. 

I grant, I am a woman, but, withal, 
A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife: 
I grant, I am a woman, but, withal, 
! A woman well reputed, — Cato's dai^hter. 
Think you, I am no stronger than my sex. 
Being so father'd, and so husbanded? 


Yob are my true and honourable lyife: 
As dear to me, as are the ruddy drops 
That visit my sad heart ! 

Portia, as Shakespeare has truly felt and rep- 
, resented the character, is but a softened reflec- 

340 Sbtibespe&te's ttetofnee. 

tion of that of her husband Brutus: in him we 
see an excess of natural sensibility, an almost 
womanish tenderness of heart, repressed by the 
tenets of his austere philosophy : a stoic by pro- 
fession, and in reality the reverse — acting deeds 
against his nature by the strong force of prin- 
ciple and will. In Portia there is the same pro- 
found and passionate feeling, and all her sex's 
softness and timidity, held in check by that self- 
discipline, that stately dignity, which she thought 
became a woman "so fathered and so husbanded." 
The fact of her inflicting on herself a (voluntary 
wound to try her own fortitude is perhaps the 
strongest proof of this disposition. Plutarch re- 
lates, that on the day on which Caesar was assas- 
sinated, Portia appeared overcome with terror, 
and even swooned away, but did not in her emo- 
tion utter a word which could affect the conspir- 
ators. Shakespeare has rendered this circum- 
stance literally : 


I pr'ythee, boy, run to the senate-house; 

Stay not to answer me, but get thee gone: 

Why dost thou stay ? , 


To know my errand, madam. 


I would have had thee there and here again. 
Ere I can tell thee what thou should'st do there. 

constancy, be strong upon my side ! 

Set a huge mountain 'tween my heart and tongue I 

1 have a man's mind, but a woman's might 
.... Ah me ! how weak a thing 

The heart of woman is! O, I grow faint, &c. 

:iBIancbe. 341 

There is another beautiful incident related by 
Plutarch, which could not well be dramatized. 
When Brutus and Portia parted for the last time 
in the island of Nisida, she restrained all ex- 
pression of grief that she might not shake his 
fortitude; but afterwards, in passing through a 
chamber in which there hung a picture of Hec- 
tor and Andromache, she stopped, gazed upon 
it for a time with a settled sorrow, and at length 
burst into a passion of tears.''^ 

If Portia had been a Christian, and lived in later 
times, she might have been another Lady Rus- 
sell; but she made a poor stoic. No factitious 
or external control was sufficient to restrain such 
an exuberance of sensibility and fancy : and those 
who praise the philosophy of Portia and the 
heroism of her death, certainly mistook the char- 
acter altogether.. It is evident, from the man- 
ner of her death, that it was not deliberate self- 
destruction, "after the high Roman fashion," but 
took place in a paroxysm of madness, caused by 
over-wrought and suppressed feeling, grief, ter- 
ror, and suspense. Shakespeare has thus repre- 
sented it: 


O, Cassius ! I am sick of many griefs. 

"When at Naples, I have often stood upon the rock 
at the extreme point of Posilippo, and looked down 
upon the little Island of Nisida, and thought of this 
scene till I forgot the Lazaretto which now deforms it : 
deforms it, however, to the fancy only, for the build- 
ing itself, as it rises from amid the vines, the cypresses, 
and fig-trees which embosom it, looks beautiful at a dis- 

342 Sbaftespearc's tictoines: 


Of your philosophy you make no use, 
If you give place to accidental evils. 


No man bears sorrow better : — Portia is dead. 


Ha!— Portia? 


She is dead. 


How 'scap'd I killing when I cross'd you so? 
O, insupportable and touching loss!-— 
Upon what sickness? 


Impatient of my absence, 
And grief that young Octavius with Mark Antony 
Had made themselves so strong; — for with her 

These tidings came; — with this she fell distract. 
And, her attendants, absent, swallow'd fire. 

So much for woman's philosophy 







P N^ 





i^'' ^^^H 








[4' Tm 









From the Painting by I<uke Fields, R. A. 

Shakespeare's Heroines 

Aatgacet of Bnjou. 343 


Malone has written an essay to prove, from 
external and internal evidence, that the three 
parts of "King Henry VI." were not originally 
written by Shakespeare, but altered by him from 
two old plays,^* with considerable improvements 
and additions of his own. Burke, Porson, Dr. 
Warburton, and Dr. Farmer pronounced this 
piece of criticism convincing and unanswerable; 
but Dr. Johnson and Steevens would not be con- 
vinced, and moreover, have contrived to answer 
the unanswerable. "Who shall decide when doc- 
tors disagree ?" The only arbiter in such a case is 
one's own individual taste and judgment. To 
me it appears that the three parts of "Henry VI." 
have less of poetry and passion, and more of un- 
necessary verbosity and inflated language, than 
the rest of Shakespeare's works; that the con- 
tinual exhibition of treachery, bloodshed, and 
violence is revolting, and the want of unity of 
action and of a pervading interest oppressive and 
fatigfuing; but also that there are splendid pas- 
sages in the Second and Third Parts, such as 

""The Contention of the Two Houses of York and 
Lancaster," in two parts, supposed by Malone to have 
been written about 1590. 

344 Sbaliespeate'6 f>ecolne0. 

Shakespeare alone could have written: and this 
is not denied by the most sceptical.*^ 

Among the arguments against the authenticity 
of these plays, the character of Margaret of An- 
jou has not been adduced, and yet to those who 
have studied Shakespeare in his own spirit it will 
appear the most conclusive of all. When we com- 
pare her with his other female characters, we are 
struck at once by the want of family likeness: 

"I abstain from making any remarks on the charac- 
ter of Joan of Arc, as delineated in the First Part of 
"Henry VI."; first, because I do not in my conscience 
attribute it to Shakespeare; and secondly, because in 
representing her according to the vulgar English tra- 
ditions, as half sorceress, half enthusiast, and in the end 
corrupted by pleasure and ambition, the truth of his- 
tory, and the truth of nature, justice, and common sense, 
are equally violated. Schiller has treated the character 
nobly; but in making Joan the slave of passion, and 
the victim of love instead of the victim of patriotism, 
has committed, I think, a serious error in judgment and 
feeling; and I cannot sympathize with Madame de 
Stael's defence of him on this particular point. There 
was no occasion for this deviation from the truth of 
things, and from the dignity and spotless purity of the 
character. This young enthusiast, with her religious 
reveries, her simplicity, her heroism, her melancholy, 
her sensibility, her fortitude, her perfectly feminine 
bearing in all her exploits (for though she so often led 
the van of battle unshrinking while death was all 
around her, she never struck a blow, nor stained her 
consecrated sword with blood, — another point in which 
Schiller has wronged her), this heroine and martyr, 
over whose last moments we shed burning tears of pity 
and indignation, remains yet to be treated as a dramatic 
character, and I know but one person capable of doing 

flSatflarct of Unjou. 345 

Shakespeare was not always equal, but he had not 
two manners, as they say of painters. I discern 
his hand in particular parts, but I cannot recog- 
nize his spirit in the conception of the whole: 
he may have laid on some of the colors, but the 
original design has a certain hardness and heavi- 
ness, very unlike his usual style. Margaret of 
Anjou, as exhibited in these tragedies, js a dra- 

■ matic portrait of considerable truth, and vigor, 
and consistency — ^but she is not one of Shake- 
speare's women. He who knew so well in what 
true greatness of spirit consisted — who could. ex- 
cite our respect and sympathy even for a Lady 
Macbeth, would never have given us a heroine 
without a touch of heroism; he would not have 
portrayed a high-hearted woman, struggling un- 
subdued against the strangest vicissitudes of for- 
tune, meeting reverses and disasters, such as 
would have broken the most masculine spirit, 
with unshaken constancy, yet left her without 
a single personal quality which would excite our 
interest in her bravely-endured misfortunes ; and 
this, too, in the very face of history. He would 

, not have given us, in lieu of the magnanimous 
queen, the subtle and accomplished French- 
woman, a mere "Amazonian trull," with every 
coarser feature of depravity and ferocity; he 
would have redeemed her from unmingled de- 
testation ; he would have breathed into her some 
of his own sweet spirit — ^he would have given 
the woman a soul. 

The old chronicler Hall informs us that Queen 
Margaret "excelled all other as well in beauty 

346 SbaRespcarc'6 1beto(ne0. 

and favor as in wit and policy, and was in stom- 
ach and courage more like to a man than to a 
woman." He adds, that after the espousals of 
Henry and Margaret, "the king's friends fell 
from him, the lords of the realm fell in division 
among themselves, the commons rebelled against 
their natural prince, fields were foughten, many 
thousands slain, and finally the king was deposed, 
and his son slain, and his queen sent home again 
with as much misery and sorrow as she was re- 
ceived with pomp and triumph." 

This passage seems to have furnished the 
groundwork of the character, as it is developed 
in these plays with no great depth or skill. Mar- 
garet is portrayed with all the exterior graces of 
her sex; as bold and artful, with spirit to dare, 
resolution to act, and fortitude to endure; but 
treacherous, haughty, dissembling, vindictive, and 
fierce. The bloody struggle for power in which 
she was engaged, and the companionship of the 
ruthless iron men around her, seem to have left 
her nothing of womanhood but the heart of a 
mother — that last stronghold of our feminine na- 
ture ! So far the character is consistently drawn ; 
it has something of the power, but none of the 
flowing ease of Shakespeare's manner. There 
are fine materials not well applied, there is poetry 
in some of the scenes and speeches, the situations 
are often exceedingly poetical ; but in the char- 
acter of Margaret herself there is not an atom 
of poetry. In her artificial dignity, her plausible 
wit, and her endless volubility, she would re- 
mind us of some of the most admired heroines 

Aacgaret of Bnjou. 347 

of FrencH tragedy, but for that unlucky box on 
the ear which she gives the Duchess of Glo'ster, 
— a violation of tragic decorum which of course 
destroys all parallel. 

Having said thus much, I shall point out some 
of the finest and most characteristic scenes in 
which Margaret appears. The speech in which 
she expresses her scorn of her meek husband, 
and her impatience of the power exercised by 
those fierce, overbearing barons, York, Salisbury, 
Warwick, Buckingham, is very fine; and conveys 

.as faithful an idea of those feudal times as of 
the woman who speaks. The burst of female 

. spite with which she concludes, is admirable — 

Not all these lords do vex me half so much. 
As that proud dame, the Lord Protector's wife. 
She sweeps it through the court with troops of 

More like an empress than Duke Humphrey's wife; 
Strangers in court do take her for the queen : 
She bears a duke's revenues on her back, 
And in her heart she scorns our poverty. 
Shall I not live to be avenged on her? 
Contemptuous base-born callat as she is, 
She vaunted 'mongst her minions t'other day. 
The very train of her worst wearing gown 
Was better worth than all my father's lands, 
Till Suffolk gave two dukedoms for his daughter. 

Her intriguing spirit, the facility with which 
she enters into the murderous confederacy against 
the good Duke Humphrey, the artful plausibil- 
ity with which she endeavors to turn suspicion 
from herself, confounding her gentle consort by 

348 Sbaftespeare's Iberoines. 

mere dint of words, are exceedingly character- 
istic, but not the less revolting. 

Her criminal love for Suffolk (which is a dra- 
matic incident, not an historic fact) gives rise 
to the beautiful parting scene in the third act — ■ 
a scene which it is impossible to read without a 
thrill of emotion, hurried away by that power and 
pathos which forces us to sympathize with the 
eloquence of grief, yet excites not a momentary 
interest either for Margaret or her lover. The 
ungoverned fury of Margaret in the first in- 
stance, the manner in which she calls on Suffolk 
to curse his enemies, and then shrinks back over- 
come by the violence of the spirit she had her- 
self evoked, and terrified by the vehemence of 
his imprecations ; the transition in her mind from 
the extremity of rage to tears and melting fond- 
ness, have been pronounced, and justly, to be in 
Shakespeare's own manner. 

Go, speak not to me; even now be gone. — 
O, go not yet! Even thus two friends condemn'd, 
Embrace, and kiss, and take ten thousand leaves, 
Loather a hundred times to part than die. 
Yet now farewell; and farewell life with thee! 

which is followed by that beautiful and intense 
burst of passion from Suffolk — 

"Tis nbt the land I care for, wert thou thance; 

A wilderness is populous enough. 

So Suffolk had thy heavenly corripany: 

For where thou art, there is the world its.. 

With every several pleasure in the world; 

And where thou qrt not, desolation! 

flbatgatct of anjott. 349 

In the third part of Heriry the Sixth, Tilarga- 
ret, engaged in the terrible struggle for her hus- 
band's throne, appears to rather more advantage. 
The indignation against Henry, who had piti- 
fully yielded his son's birthright for the privilege 
of reigning unmolested during his own life, is 
worthy of her, and gives rise to a beautiful 
speech. We are here inclined to sympathize 
with her; but soon after follows the murder of 
the Duke of York ; and the base revengeful spirit 
and atrocious cruelty with which she insults over 
him, unarmed and a prisoner, — the bitterness of 
her mockery, and the unwomanly malignity with 
which she presents him with the napkin stained 
with the blood of his youngest son, and "bids the 
father wipe his eyes withal," turn all our sym- 
pathy into aversion and horror. York replies 
in the celebrated speech beginning — 

She-wolf of France, but worse than wolves of France, 
Whose tongue more poisons than the adder's tooth ! 

and taunts her with the poverty of her father, 
the most irritating topic he could have chosen. 

Hath that poor monarch taught thee to insult? 
It needs not, nor it boots thee not, proud queen, 
Unless the adage must be verified, 
That beggars, mounted, ride their horse to death. 
'Tis beauty, that doth oft malse women proud; 
But, God, he Knows, thy share thereof is small : ■ 
'Tis virtue that doth make theni most admir'd; 
The contrary doth make thee wonder'd at ; 
"Tis government, that makes them seem divine; 
The want thereof makes thee abominable. 

350 Sbaltespeare's Deroines. 

O, tiger's heart, wrapp'd in a woman's hide? 
How could'st thou drain the life-blood of the child 
To bid the father wipe his eyes withal, 
And yet be seen to bear a woman's face? 
Women are soft, mild, pitiful, and flexible; 
Thou stern, obdurate, flinty, rough, remorseless! 

By such a woman as Margaret is here depicted, 
such a speech could be answered only in one" way 
— with her dagger's point ; and thus she answers 

It is some comfort to reflect that this trait of 
ferocity is not historical ; the body of the Duke 
of York was found, after the battle, among the 
heaps of slain, and his head struck off ; but even 
this was not done by the command of Margaret. 

In another passage, the truth and consistency 
of the character of Margaret are sacrificed to 
the march of the dramatic action, with a very ill 
effect. When her fortunes were at the very low- 
est ebb, and she had sought refuge in the court 
of the French king, Warwick, her most formida- 
ble enemy, upon some disgust he had taken 
against Edward the Fourth, offered to espouse 
her cause, and proposed a match between the 
prince, her son, and his daughter Anne of War- 
wick — the "gentle Lady Anne" who figures in 
"Richard the Third." In the play, Margaret em- 
braces the offer without a moment's hesitation;''' 

" See Henry VI. Part IH. Act iii. scene 3 — 


Warwick, these words have turn'd my hate to love; 
And I forgive and quite forget old faults. 
And joy that thou becom'st King Henry's friend. 

flSarsaret of Bniou. 351 

we are disgusted by her versatile policy, and a 
meanness of spirit in no way allied to the mag- 
nanimous forgiveness of her terrible adversary. 
The Margaret of history sternly resisted this de- 
grading expedient. She could not, she said, par- 
don from her heart the man who had been the 
primary cause of all her misfortunes. She mis- 
trusted Warwick, despised him for the motives 
of his revolt from Edward, and considered that 
to match her son into the family of her enemy 
from mere policy, was a species of degradation. 
It took Louis the Eleventh, with all his art and ' 
eloquence, fifteen days to wring a reluctant con- 
sent, accompanied with tears, from this high- 
hearted woman. 

The speech of Margaret to her council of gen- 
erals before the battle of Tewkesbury (act v. 
scene 5) is as remarkable a specimen of false 
rhetoric, as her address to the soldiers on the 
eve of the fight, is of true and passionate elo- 

She witnesses the final defeat of her army, the 
massacre of her adherents, and the murder of. 
her son; and though the savage Richard would 
willingly have put an end to her misery, and ex- - 
claims very pertinently — 

Why should she live to fill the world with words? . 

she is dragged forth unharmed, a woful spec- 
tacle of extremest wretchedness, to vyhich death 
would have been an undeserved relief. If we 
compare the clamorous and loud exclaims of Mar- 
garet after the slaughter of her son, to the rav- 

352 SbaRespeare's "ftcrofnes. 

ings of Constance, we shall perceive where Shake- 
speare's genius did not preside, and where it did. 
Margaret, in bold defiance of history, but with 
fine dramatic effect, is introduced again in the 
gorgeous and polluted court of Edward the 
Fourth. There she stalks around the seat of her 
former greatness, like a terrible phantom of de- 
parted majesty, uncrowned, unsceptred, desolate, 
powerless — or like a vampire thirsting for 
blood — or like a grim prophetess of evil, im- 
precating that ruin on the head of her enemies, 
which she lived to see realized. The scene fol- 
lowing the murder of the princes in the Tower, 
in which Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of 
York sit down on the ground bewailing their des- 
olation, and Margaret suddenly appears from be- 
hind them, like the very personification of woe, 
and seats herself beside them revelling in their 
despair, is, in the general conception and effect, 
grand and appalling. 


O, Harry's wife, triumph not in my woes; 
God witness with me, I have wept for thine. 


Bear with me, I am hungry for revenge, 

And now I cloy me with beholding it. 

Thy Edward he is dead, that kill'd my Edward; 

Thy other Edward dead, to quit my Edward: 

Young York he is but boot, because both they 

Match'd not the high perfection of my loss. 

Thy Clarence he is dead, that stabb'd my Edward; 

And the beholders of this tragic play. 

iSSntQWcct Of 2lnjou. 353 

The adulterate Hastings, Rivers, Vaughan, Grey, 

Untimely smother'd in their dusky graves. 

Richard yet lives, hell's black intelligencer, 

Only reserved their factor, to buy souls 

And send them thither : But at hand, at hand. 

Ensues his piteous and unpitied end; 

Earth gapes, hell burns, fiends roar, saints pray. 

To have him suddenly convey'd from hence. — 

Cancel his bond of life, dear God, I pray, 

That I may live to say. The dog is dead.™ 

She could have stopped here; but the effect 
thus poweffully excited is marred and weak- 
ened by so much superfluous rhetoric, that we 
are tempted to exclaim with the old Duchess of 
Why should calamity be full of words? 

"Horace Walpole observes that "it is evident firom 
the conduct of Shakespeare that the House of Tudor 
retained all their Lancasterian prejudices even in the 
reign of Queen Elizabeth. In his play of 'Richard the 
Third' he seems to deduce the woes of the House of 
York from the curses which Queen Margaret had 
vented against them ; and he could not give that weight 
to her curses, without supposing a right in her to utter 

354 SbaKespeare's ibecofnee. 


To have a just idea of the accuracy and beauty 
of this historical portrait, we ought to bring im- 
mediately before us those circumstances of Kath- 
erine's life and times, and those parts of her char- 
acter, which belong to a period previous to the 
opening of the play. We shall then be better 
able to appreciate the skill with which Shake- 
speare has applied the materials before him. 

Katherine of Arragon, the fourth and young- 
est daughter of Ferdinand, king of Arragon, and 
Isabella of Castile, was born at Alcala, whither 
her mother had retired to winter after one of 
the most terrible campaigns of the Moorish war 
— that of 1485. 

Katherine had derived from nature no daz- 
zling qualities of mind, and no striking advan- 
tages of person. She inherited a tincture of 
Queen Isabella's haughtiness and obstinacy of 
temper, but neither her beauty nor her splen- 
did talents. Her education under the direction 
of that extraordinary mother had implanted in 
her mind the most austere principles of virtue, 
the highest ideas of female decorum, the most 
narrow and bigoted attachment to the forms of 
religion, and that excessive pride of birth and 
rank which distinguished so particularly her fam- 
ily and her nation. In other respects, her under- 

<a«een "Ratberine ot acragon. 3S5 

standing was strong and her judgment clear. The 
natural turn of her mind was simple, serious, and 
domestic, and all the impulses of her heart kindly 
and benevolent. Such was Katherine; such, at 
least, she appears on a reference to the chronicles 
of her times, and particularly from her own let- 
ters, and the paipers written or dictated by her- 
self which relate to her divorce ; all of which are 
distinguished by the same artless simplicity of 
style, the same quiet good sense, the same reso- 
lute, yet gentle spirit and fervent piety. 

When five years old, Katherine was solemnly 
affianced to Arthur, Prince of Wales, the eldest 
son of Henry VII.; and in the year 1501 she 
landed in England, after narrowly escaping ship- 
wreck on the southern coast, from which every 
adverse wind conspired to drive her. She was 
received in London with great honor, and imme- 
diately on her arrival united to the young prince. 
He was then fifteen, and Katherine in here sev- 
enteenth year. 
■f Arthur, as it is well known, survived his mar- 
riage only five months; and the reluctance of 
Henry VII. to refund the splendid dowry of the 
Infanta, and forego the. advantages of an alliance 
with the most powerful prince of Europe, sug- 
gested the idea of uniting Katherine to his sec- 
ond son, Henry : after some hesitation, a dispensa- 
tion was procured from the pope, and she was 
betrothed to Henry in her eighteenth year. The 
prince, who was then only twelve years old, re- 
sisted as far as he was able to do so, and appears 
to have really felt a degree of horror at the idea 

356 Sbaftespeate'0 f>etoine0. 

of marrying his brother's widow. Nor was the 
mind of King Henry at rest; as his health de- 
dined, his conscience reproached him with the 
equivocal nature of the union into which he had 
forced his son, and the vile motiyes of avarice 
and expediency which had governed him on this 
occasion. A short time previous to his death, he 
dissolved the engagement, and even caused Henry 
to sign a paper in which he solemnly renounced 
all idea of a future union with the Infanta. It 
is observable, that Henry signed this paper with 
reluctance, and that Katherine, instead of being 
sent back to her own country, still remained in 

It appears that Henry, who was now about sev- 
enteen, had become int€rested for Katherine, who 
was gentle and amiable. The difference of years 
was rather a circumstance in her favor ; for Henry 
was just at that age when a youth is most likely 
to be captivated by a woman older than himself; 
and no sooner was he required to renounce her 
than the interest she had gradually gained in his 
affections became, by opposition, a strong pas- 
sion. Immediately after his father's death he 
declared his resolution to take for his wife the 
Lady Katherine of Spain, and none other; and 
when the matter was discussed in council, it was 
urged that, besides the many advantages of the 
match in a political point of view, she had given 
so "much proof of virtue and sweetness of con- 
dition, as they knew not where to parallel her." 
About six weeks after his accession, June 3, 1509, 
the marriage was celebrated with truly royal 

(Stueen tkatbecine of Btcagon. 357 

splendor, Henry being then eighteen, and Kath- 
erine in her twenty-fourth year. 

It has been said with truth, that if Henry had 
died while Katherine was yet his wife and Wol- 

, sey his minister, he would have left behind him 
the character of a magnificent, popular, and ac- 
complished prince, instead of that of the most 
hateful ruffian and tyrant who ever swayed these 
realms. Notwithstanding his occasional infideli- 
ties, and his impatience at her midnight vigils, 

■ her long prayers, and her religious austerities, 
Katherine and Henry lived in harmony together. 
He was fond of openly displaying his respect 
and love for her ; and she exercised a strong and 
salutary influence over his turbulent and despotic 
spirit. When Henry set out on his expedition 
to France, in 1513, he left Katherine regent of 
the kingdom during his absence, with full pow- 
ers to carry on the war against the Scots; and 
the Earl of Surrey at the head of the army, as 
her lieutenant-general. It is curious to find 
Katherine — the pacific, domestic, and unpretend- 
ing Katherine — describing herself as having "her 
heart set to war," and "horrible busy" with mak- 
ing "standards, banners, badges, scarfs, and the 
like." Nor was this mere silken preparation- 
mere da,lliance with the pomp and circumstance 
of war; for, within a few weeks afterwards, her 
general defeated the Scots in the famous battle 
of Flodden Field, where James IV. and most of 
bis nobility were slain.'" 

"" Under similar circumstances, one of Katharine's 

358 SbaKespeate's tberofnes. 

Katherine's letter to Henry, announcing this 
event, so strikingly displays the piety and ten-r 
derness, the quiet simplicity, and real magnanim- 
ity, of her character, that there cannot be a more 
apt and beautiful illustration of the exquisite 
truth and keeping of Shakespeare's portrait : 

"Sir : — My Lord Howard hath send me a let- 
ter, open to your Grace, within one of mine, by 
the which ye shall see at length the great vic- 
tory that out Lord hath sent your subjects in your 
absence: and for this cause it is no need herein 
to trouble your Grace with long writing; but to 
my thinking this battle hath been to your Grace, 
and all your realm, the greatest honour that could 
be, and more than ye should win all the crown 
of France; thanked be God for it! And I am 
sure your Grace forgetteth not to do this, which 
shall be cause to send you many more such great 
victories, as I trust he shall do. My husband, for 
haste, with Rougecross, I could not send your 
Grace the piece of the King of Scots' coat, which 
John Glyn now bringeth. In this your Grace 
shall see how I can keep my promise, sending you 
for your banners a king's coat. I thought to 
send himself unto you, but our Englishmen's 
hearts would not suffer it. It should have been 
better for him to have been in peace than have 
this reward; but all that God sendeth is for the 

predecessors, Philippa of Hainault, had gained in her 
husband's absence the battle of Neville Cross, in which 
David Bruce was taken prisoner. 

Queen fcatbetinc ot Bttagon. 359 

best. My Lord of Surrey, my Henry, would fain 
know your pleasure in the burying of the King 
of Scots' body, for he hath written to me so. With 
the next messenger your Grace's pleasure may be 
herein known. And with this I make an end, 
praying God tA send you home shortly ; for with- 
out this, no joy here can be accomplished, and 
for the same I pray. And now go to our Lady 
at Walsyngham, that I promised so long ago to 
"At Woburn, the i6th day of September (1513). 

"I send your Grace herein a bill, found in a 
Scottishman's purse, of such things as the French 
king sent to the saiii King of Scots to make war 
against you, beseeching you to send Mathew 
hither as soon as this messenger cometh with tid- 
ings of your Grace. 

"Your humble wife and true servant, 


The legality of the king's marriage with Kath- 
erine remained undisputed till 1527. In the 
course of that year Anna BuUen first appeared at 
court, and was appointed maid of honor to the 
queen; and then, and not till then, did Henry's 
union with his brother's wife "creep too near his 
conscience." In the following year he sent spe- 
cial messengers to Rome with secret instructions : 
they were required to discover (among other 

"Ellis's "Collection." We must keep in mind that 
Katherine was a foreigner, and till after she was sev- 
enteen never spoke or wrote a word of English. 

360 SbtCkespeatc'a Ibetoinee. 

"hard questions") whether, if the queen entered 
a religious life, the king might have the pope's 
dispensation to marry again ; and whether, if the i 
king (for the better inducing the queen thereto) I 
would enter himself into a religious life, thej 
pope would dispense with the king's vow and 
leave her there? ; 

Poor Katharine ! We are not surprised to read 
that when she understood what was intended 
against her, "she labored with all those passions 
which jealousy of the king's affection, sense of 
her own honor, and the legitimation of her daugh- 
ter, could produce, laying in conclusion the whole 
fault on the cardinal." It is elsewhere said that 
Wolsey bore the queen ill-will, in consequence of 
her reflecting with some severity on his haughty 
temper and very unclerical life. 

The proceedings were pending for nearly six 
years, and one of the causes of this long delay, 
in spite of Henry's impatient and despotic char- 
acter, is worth noting. The old chronicle tells 
us, that though the men generally, artd more par- 
ticularly the priests and the nobles, sided with 
Henry in this matter, yet all the ladies of Eng- 
land were against it. They justly felt that the 
honor and welfare of no woman was secure if, 
after twenty years of union, she might be thus . 
deprived of all her rights as a wife: the clamor 
became so loud and general, that the king was 
obliged to yield to it for a time, to stop the pro- 
ceedings, and to banish Anna Bullen from the 

Cardinal Campeggio, called by Shakespeare 

<aucen IRatberine ot attagon. 361 

Campeius, arrived in Englahd in October, 1528. 
He at first endeavored to persuade Katherine to 
avoid the disgrace and danger of contesting her 
marriage, by entering a religious house; but she 
rejected his advice with strong expressions of 
disdain. "I am," said she, "the king's true wife, 
and to him married ; and if all doctors were dead, 
or law or learning far out of men's minds, at the 
time of our marnage, yet I cinnot think that the 
court of- Rome, arid the whole Church of England, 
vi^ould have consented to a thing unlawful and 
detestable, as you' call it. Still I say I am his 
wife, a:nd for him Will I pray." 

About two years afterwards Wolsey died (in 
November, 1530), the kin'g and queen met for 
the last time on the 14th of July, 1531. Until 
that period some outward show of respect and 
kindness had been maintained between them ; but 
the king then ordered her to repair to a private 
residence, and no longer to consider herself as 
his lawful wife. "To which the virtuous and 
mourning queen replied no more than this, that 
to whatever place she removed, nothing could re- 
move her from being the king's wife. And so 
they bid each other farewell ; and from this time 
the king never saw her more."'* He married 
Anna Bullen in 1532, while the decision relating 
to his former marriage was still pending. The 
sentence of divorce to which Katherine never 
would submit was finally pronounced by Cran- 
mer in 1533; and the unhappy queen, whose 

"Hall's "Chronicle." 

362 Sbaftcspeare'a ©crofncs. 

health had been gradually declining through these 
troubles of heart, died January 29, 1536, in the, 
fiftieth year of her age. 

Thus the action of the play of "Henry VIII." 
includes events which occurred from the impeach- 
ment of the Duke of Buckingham, in 1521, to the 
death of Katherine in 1536. In making the 
death of Katherine precede the birth of Queen 
Elizabeth, Shakespeare has committed an an- 
achronism, not only pardonable, but necessary. 
We must remember that the construction of the 
play required a happy termination; and that the 
birth of Elizabeth, before or after the death of 
Katherine, involved the question of her legit- 
imacy. By this slight deviation from the real 
course of events, Shakespeare has not perverted 
historic facts, but merely sacrificed them to a 
higher principle; and in doing so has not only 
preserved dramatic propriety and heightened the 
poetical interest, but has given a strong proof both 
of his delicacy and his judgment. 

If we also call to mind that in this play Kath- 
erine is properly the heroine, and exhibited from 
.. the first to last as the very "queen of earthly 
queens :" that the whole interest is thrown round 
her and Wolsey — the one the injured rival, the 
other the enemy of Anna Bullen ; and that it was 
written in the reign and for the court of Eliza- 
beth, we shall yet further appreciate the moral 
greatness of the poet's mind, which disdained to 
sacrifice justice and the truth of nature to any 
time-serving expediency. 

Schlegel observes somewhere, that in the literal 

duccn Ikatbcritie of Stragon. 363 

accuracy and apparent artlessness with which 
Shakespeare has adapted some of the events and 
characters of history to his dramatic purposes, he. 
has shown equally his genius and his wisdom. - 
This, like most of Schlegel's remarks, is pro- 
found and true; and in this respect Katherine of. 
Arragon may rank as the triumph of Shake- 
speare's genius and his wisdom. There is noth- 
ing in the whole range of poetical fiction in any 
respect resembling or approaching her; there is 
nothing comparable, I suppose, but Katherine's" 
own portrait by Holbein, which, equally true to- 
the life, is yet as far inferior as Katherine's per- 
son was inferior to her mind. Not only has 
Shakespeare given us here a delineation as faith- 
ful, of a peculiar modification of character, but 
he has bequeathed us a precious moral lesson 
in this proof that virtue alone, (by which I mean- 
here the union of truth or conscience with benev- 
olent affection — the one the highest law, the other 
the purest impulse of the soul), — that such vir- 
tue is a sufficient source of the deepest pathos and 
power without any mixture of foreign or external 
ornament : for who but Shakespeare would have . 
brought before us a queen and a heroine of trag- 
edy, stripped her of all pomp of place and cir- 
cumstance, dispensed with all the usual sources 
of poetical interest, as youth, beauty, grace, fancy, 
commanding intellect; and without any appeal- 
to our imagination, without any violation of his- 
torical truth, or any sacrifices of the other dra- 
matic personages for the sake of effect, could de- 
pend on the moral principle alone to touch the 

864 Sbaftespeare's Detoinea. 

very springs of feeling in our bosoms, and melt 
and elevate our hearts through the purest and 
holiest impulses of our nature? 

The character, when analyzed, is, in the first 
place, distinguished by truth. I do not only mean 
its truth to nature, or its relative truth arising 
from its historic fidelity and dramatic consistency, 
but truth as a quality of the soul ; this is the basis 
of the character. We often hear it remarked, 
that those who are themselves perfectly true and 
artless, are in this world the more easily and fre- 
quently deceived — a commonplace fallacy: for we 
^hall ever find that truth is as undeceived as it 
is undeceiving, and that those who are true to 
themselves and others may now and then be mis- 
taken, or, in particular instances, duped, by the 
intervention of some other affection or quality 
of the mind; but they are generally free from 
illusion, and they are seldom imposed upon in 
the long run by. the shows of things and super- 
fices of characters. It is by this integrity of heart 
and clearness of understanding, this light of truth 
within her own soul, and not through any acute- 
ness of intellect, that Katherine detects and ex- 
poses the real character of Wolsey, though un- 
able either to unravel his designs or defeat them. 

My lord, my lord, 
I am a simple woman, much too weak 
T' oppose your cunning. 

She rather intuitively feels than knows his du- 
plicity, and in the dignity of her simplicity she 
towers above his arrogance as much as she scorns 

(Slueen fcatberine of artagon. 365 

his crooked policy. With this essential truth are 
combined many other qualities, natural or ac- 
quired, all made out with the same uncompromis- 
ing breath of execution and fidelity of pencil, 
united with the utmost delicacy of feeling. For 
instance, the apparent contradiction arising from 
the contrast between Katherine's natural disposi- 
tion and the situation in which she is placed ; her 
lofty Castilian pride and her extreme simplicity 
of language and deportment; the inflexible reso- 
lution with which she asserts her right, and her 
soft resignation to unkindness and wrong; her 
warmth of temper breaking through the meek- 
ness of a spirit subdued by a deep sense of reli- 
gion, and a degree of austerity tinging her real 
benevolence ; — all these qualities, opposed yet har- 
monizing, has Shakespeare placed before us in 
a few admirable scenes. 

Katherine is at first introduced as pleading 
before the king in behalf of the commonalty, who 
had been driven by the extortions of Wolsey into 
some illegal excesses. In this scene, whi^h is 
true to history, we have her upright reasoning 
mind, her steadiness of purpose, her piety and 
benevolence, placed in a strong light. The un- 
shrinking dignity with which she opposes .with- 
out descending to brave the cardinal, the stern 
rebuke addressed to the Duke of Buckingham's 
surveyor, are finely characteristic; and by thus 
exhibiting Katherine as invested with all her con- 
jugal rights and influence, and royal state, the 
subsequent situations are rendered more impres- 
sive. She is placed in the first instance on such 

366 Sbaftcspcate's "©etofnca. 

a height in our esteem and reverence, that in the 
midst of her abandonment and degradation, and 
the profound pity she afterwards inspires, the 
first effect remains unimpaired, and she never 
falls beneath it. 

In the beginning of the second act we are pre- 
pared for the proceedings of the divorce, and our 
respect for Katherine is heightened by the gen- 
eral sympathy for "the good queen," as she is 
expressively entitled, and by the following beau- 
tiful eulogium on her character uttered by the 
Duke of Norfolk : 

He (Wolsey) counsels a divorce — the loss of her 
That like a jewel hath hung twenty years 
About his neck, yet never lost her lustre. 
Of her that loves him with that excellence 
That angels love good men with. Even of her. 
That when the greatest stroke of fortune falls. 
Will bless the king ! 

The scene in which Anna Bullen is introduced 
as expressing her grief and sympathy for her 
royal mistress is exquisitely graceful. 

Here's the pang that pinches ; 
His highness having lived so long with her, and she 
So good a lady, that no tongue could ever 
Pronounce dishonour of her, — by my life. 
She never knew harm doing! O now, after 
So many courses of the sun enthron'd. 
Still growing in a majesty and pomp, — the which 
To leave is a thousandfold more bitter than 
'Tis sweet at first to acquire. After this process, 
To give her the avaunt! it is a pity 
.Would move a monster. 

dueen 'Katbecine ot Httagon. 367 


Hearts of most hard temper 
Mdt and lament for her. 


O, God's will! much better 
She ne'er had known pomp: though it be temporal. 
Yet if that quarrel, fortune, do divorce 
It from the bearer, 'tis a sufferance, panging 
As soul and body's severing. 


Alas, poor lady! 
She's a stranger now again. 


So much the more 
Must pity drop upon her. Verily, 
I swear 'tis better to be lowly born. 
And range with humble livers in content. 
Than to be perk'd up in a glistering grief. 
And wear a golden sorrow. 

How completely, in the few passages appro- 
priated to Anna Bullen, is her character por- 
trayed! with what a delicate and yet luxuriant 
grace is she sketched off, with her gaiety and her 
beauty, her levity, her extreme mobility, her 
sweetness of disposition, her tenderness of heart, 
and, in short, all her femalities! How nobly has 
Shakespeare done justice to the two women, and 
heightened our interest in both, by placing the 
praises of Katherine in the mouth of Anna Bul- 
len; and how characteristic of the latter, that 
she should first express unbounded pity for her 
mistress, insisting chiefly on her fall from her 
regal state and worldly pomp, thus betraying her 
own disposition — 

368 Sbaftespcare'fl Ijetofncs. 

For she that had all the fair parts of woman. 
Had, too* a wornarfs heart ; which ever yet 
Affected eminence, wealth, sovereignty. 

That she should call the loss of temporal pomp, 
once enjoyed, "a sufferance equal to soul and 
body's severing;" that she should immediately 
protest that she woilld not herself be a queen — 
"No, good troth! not for all the riches under 
heaven !" — ^and not long afterwards ascend with- 
out reluctance that throne and bed from which 
her royal mistress had been so cruelly divorced! 
— how natural ! The portrait is not less true and 
masterly than that of Katherine; but the char- 
acter is overborne by the superior moral firm- 
ness and intrinsic excellence of the latter. That 
we may be more fully sensible of this contrast, 
the beautiful scene just alluded to immediately 
precedes Katherine's trial at Blackfriars, and the 
description of Anna Bullen's triumphant beauty 
at her coronation is placed immediately before the 
dying scene of Katherine; yet with equal good 
taste and good feeling Shakespeare has constantly 
avoided all personal collision between the two 
characters ; nor does Anna Bullen ever appear as 
queen except in the pageant of the procession, 
which in reading the play is scarcety noticed. 

To return to Katherine. The whole of the 
Trial scene is given nearly verbatim from the old 
chronicles and records; but the dryness and 
harshness of the law proceedings is tempered at 
once and elevated by the genius and the wisdom 
of the poet. It appears, on referring to the his- 
torical authorities, that, when the affair was first 

(Hueen "ftatbcrtne of awaflon. 369 

agitated in council, Katharine replied to the long 
expositions and theological sophistries of her op- 
ponents with resolute simplicity a;nd composure: 
"I am a woman, and lack wit and learning to 
answer these opinions ; but I am sure that neither 
the king's father nor my father would have con- 
descended to our marriage, if it had been judged 
unlawful. As to your saying that I should put 
the cause to eight persons of this realm, for quiet- 
ness of the king's conscience, I pray Heaven to 
send his Grace a quiet conscience : and this shall 
be your answer, that I say I am his lawful wife, 
and to him lawfully married, though not worthy 
of it ; and in this point I will abide, till the court 
of Rome, which was privy to the beginning, have 
made a final ending of it."'* 

Katherine's appearance in the court at Black- 
friars, attended by a noble troop of ladies and 
prelates of her council, and her refusal to an- 
swer the citation, are historical.^* Her speech 
to the king — 

Sir, I desire you, do me right and justice; 
And to bestow your pity on me : &c., &c. 

" Hall's "Chronicle," p. 781. ' 

"The court at Blackfriars sat on the 28th of May, 
1529. "The queen being called, accompanied by the four 
bishops and others of her council, and a great company 
of ladies and gentlewomen following her; and after 
her obeisance, sadly and with great gravity, she ap- 
pealed from them to the court of Rpme." — ^ee Hall and 
Cavendish's "Life of Wolsey." 

The account which Hume gives of this scene is very 
elegant; but after the affecting naweti of the old 
chroniclers, it is very cold and unsatisfactory. 

370 Sbaheapeare's Iberofnes. 

is taken word for word (as nearly as the change 
from prose to blank verse would allow) from the 
old record in Hall. It would have been easy for 
Shakespeare to have exalted his own skill, by 
throwing a coloring of poetry and eloquence into " 
this speech, without altering the sense or senti- 
ment ; but by adhering to the calm, argumentative ' 
simplicity of manner and diction natural to the 
woman, he has preserved the truth of character 
without lessening the pathos of the situation. Her 
challenging Wolsey as a "foe to truth," and her 
very expressions, "I utterly refuse — yea, from 
my soul abhor you for my judge," are taken from 
fact. The sudden burst of indignant passion to- ' 
wards the close of this scene — 

In one who ever yet 
Had stood to charity, and display'd the effects 
Of disposition gentle, and of wisdom 
O'ertopping woman's power — 

IS taken from nature, though it occurred on a dif- 
ferent occasion.'^ 

Lastly, the circumstance of her being called 
back after she had appealed from the court, and 
angrily refusing to return, is from life. Master - 
Griffith, on whose arm she leaned, observed that- 
she was called : "On, on," quoth she ; "it maketh . 
no matter, for it is no indifferent court for me,, 
therefore I will not tarry. Go on your ways."'° 

"The Queen answered the Duke of Suilolk very 
highly and obstinately, with many high words; and 
suddenly, in a fury, she departed from him into her 
privy chamber." — Hall's "Chronicle." 

"Cavendish's "Life of Wolsey." 

(Slueen "ftatbctlne ot atragon. 371 

King Henry's own assertion, "I dare to say, 
my lords, that for her womanhood, wisdom, no- 
bility, and gentleness, never prince had such an- 
other wife, and therefore if I would willingly 
change her I were not wise," is thus beautifully 
paraphrased by Shakespeare : 

That man i' the world who shall report he has 
A better wife, let him in nought be trusted. 
For speaking false in that? Thou art, alone, 
(If thy rare qualities, sweet gentleness. 
Thy meekness saint-like, wife-like government. 
Obeying in commanding, and thy parts. 
Sovereign and pious else, could speak thee out), 
The queen of earthly queens. She's nobly born ; 
And, like her true nobility, she has 
Carried herself towards me. 

The annotators on Shakespeare have all ob- 
served the close resemblance between this fine 
passage — 

I am about to weep ; but. thinking that 
We are a queen, (or long have dreamed so), certain. 
The daughter of a king — my drops of tears 
I'll turn to sparks of fire — 

and the speech of Hermione — 

I am not prone to weeping as our sex 
Commonly are, the want of which vain dew 
Perchance shall dry your pities; but I have 
That honourable grief lodged here, which burns 
Worse than tears drown. 

But these verbal gentlemen do not seem to have 
felt that the resemblance is merely on the service, 
and that the two passages could not possibly 

372 SbaRespeare's f)etofne6. 

change places without a manifest violation of the 
truth of character. In Hermione it is pride of 
sex merely: in Katherine it is pride of place and' 
pride of birth. Hermione, though so superbly 
majestic, is perfectly independent of her regal 
state: Katherine, though so meekly pious, will 
neither forget hers nor allow it to be forgotten 
by dtrhers' fbr a moment. Hermione, when de- 
prived of that "crown arid comfort of her life," 
her husband's love, regards all things else with de- 
spair and indifference except the feminine honor : 
Katherine, divorced and abandoned, still with 
true Spanish pride stands upon respect, and will 
not bate one atom of her accustomed state. 

Though unqueen'd, yet like 

A Queen, and daughter to a king, inter me! 

The passage — 

A fellow of the royal bed, which owe 

A moiety of the throne — a great king's daughter, 

here standing 

To prate and talk for life, and honour, 'fore 
Who please to come to hear — '" 

would apply nearly to both queens, yet a single 
sentiment — ^nay, a single sentence-— could not pos- 
sibly be transferred from one character to the 
other. The magnanimity, the noble simplicity, 
the purity of heart, the resignation in each — how 

""Winter's Tale,'' act iii. scene 2. 

Queen •Ratfjerlne of arragon. 373 

perfectly equal in degree ! how diametrically op- 
posite in kind !'* 

Once more to return to Katherine. 

We are told by Cavendish, that when Wolsey 
and Campeggib visited the queen by the king's 
order, she was found at work among her women, 
and came forth to meet the cardinals with a skein 
of white thread hanging about her neck; that 
when Wolsey addressed her in Latin, she inter- 
rupted him, saying, "Nay, good my lord, speak 
to me in English, I beseech you ; although I un- 
derstand Latin." "Forsooth then," quoth my 
lord, "madam, if it please your Grace, we come 
both to know your mind, how ye be disposed to 
do in this matter between the king and you, and 
also to declare secretly our opinions and our coun- 
sel unto you, which we have intended of very 
zeal and obedience that we bear to your Grace." 
"My lords, I thank you then," quoth she, "of 
your good wills ; but to make answer to your re- 
quest I cannot so suddenly, for I was set among 

" I have constantly abstained from considering any 
of these characters with a reference to the theatre; yet 
I cannot help remarking, that if Mrs. Siddons, who 
excelled equally in Hermione and Katherine, and threw 
such majesty of demeanour, such power, such pictur- 
esque effect, into both, could likewise feel arid convey 
the infinite contrast between the ideal grace, the classi- 
cal repose and imaginative charm, thrown round Her- 
mione, and the matter-of-fact, artless, prosaic nature of 
Katherine ; between the poetical grandeur of the former, 
and the moral dignity of the latter, — then she certainly 
exceeded all that I could have imagined possible, even 
tp her >YOoderful powerg. 

374 Sbaftespeare's Iberoines. 

my maidens at work, thinking full little of any 
such matter; wherein there needeth a longer de- 
liberation, and a better head than mine to make 
answer to so noble wise men as ye be. I had 
need of good counsel in this case, which toucheth 
me so near ; and for any counsel or friendship that 
I can find in England, they are nothing to my 
purpose or profit. Think you, I pray you, my 
lords, will any Englishman counsel, or be friendly 
unto me, against the king's pleasure, they being 
his subjects? Nay, forsooth, my lords! and for 
my counsel, in whom I do intend to put my trust, 
they be not here ; they be in Spain, in my native 
country."' Alas! my lords, I am a poor woman 
lacking both wit and understanding sufficiently 
to answer such approved wise men as ye be both, 
in so weighty a matter. I pray you to extend 
your good and indifferent minds in your author- 
ity unto me, for I am a simple woman, destitute 
and barren of friendship and counsel, here in a 
foreign region; and as for your counsel, I will 
not refuse, but be glad to hear." 

It appears also, that when the Archbishop of 
York and Bishop Tunstall waited on her at her 
house near Huntingdon, with the sentence of the 

" This affecting passage is thus rendered by Shake- 
speare : 

Nay, forsooth, my friends. 
They that must weigh out my afflictions; 
They that my trust must grow to, live not here; 
They are, as all my other comforts, far hence. 
In mine own country, lords. 

Henry VIII. Act iii. Scene i. 

Queen "Ratbertne of arragon. 375 

divorce, signed by Henry and confirmed by act 
of parliament, she refused to admit its validity, 
she being Henry's wife, and not his subject. The 
bishop describes her conduct in his letter : "She 
being therewith in great choler and agony, and 
always interrupting our words, declared that she 
would never leave the name of queen, but would 
persist in accounting herself the king's wife till 
death." When the official letter containing min- 
utes of their conference was shown to her, she 
seized a pen and dashed it angrily across every 
sentence in which she was styled Princess-Dow- 

If now we turn to that inimitable scene between 
Katherine and the two cardinals (act iii. scene i), 
we shall observe how finely Shakespeare has con- 
densed these incidents, and unfolded to us all 
the workings of Katherine's proud yet feminine 
nature. She is discovered at work with some of 
her women — she calls for music "to soothe her 
soul, grown sad with troubles ;" then follows the 
little song, of which the sentiment is so well 
adapted to the occasion, while its quaint yet 
classic elegance breathes the very spirit of those 
times when Surrey loved and sung. 


Orpheus with his lute made trees. 
And the mountain-tops that freeze, 
Bow themselves when he did sing; 
To his music, plants and flowers 
Ever sprung; as sun and showers 
There had made a lasting spring. 

376 Sbakesveate's Iberoines. 

Everything that heard him play. 
Even the billows of the sea, 

Hung their heads, and then lay by. 
In sweet music is such art, 
Killing care, and grief of heart; 
, Fall asleep, or, hearing, die. 

They are interrupted by the arrival of the two car- 
dinals. Katherine's perception of their subtlety, 
her suspicion of their purpose, her sense of her 
own weakness and inabiUty to contend with them, 
and her mild, subdued dignity, are beautifully 
represented; as also the guarded self-command 
with which she eludes giving a definite answer; 
but when they counsel her to that which she, who 
knows Henry, feels must end in her ruin, then 
the native temper is roused at once, or, to use 
Tunstall's expression, "the choler and the agony" 
burst forth in words : 

Is this your Christian counsel? Out upon ye! 
Heaven is above all yet; there sits a Judge. 
That no king can corrupt. 


Your rage mistakes us. 


The more shame for ye ! Holy men I thought ye. 
Upon my soul, two reverend cardinal virtues; 
But cardinal sins, and hollow hearts, I fear ye! 
Mend them, for shame, my lords : is this your com- 
The cordial that ye bring a wretched lady? 

With the same force of language, and impet- 
uous yet dignified feeling, she asserts her own 
conjugal truth and merit, and insists ugon her 

<auecn Ijatberfne of artagon. 377 

Have I liv'd thus long (let me speak myself, 
Since virtue finds no friends) ? a wife, a true one, 
A woman (I dare say, without vain glory), 

■ Never yet branded with suspicion? 
Have I with all my full affections 

Still met the king? — ^lov'd him next heaven? obey'd him? 

■ Been out of fondness, superstitious to him? 
Almost forgot my prayers to content him? 

' And am I thus rewarded ? 'tis not well, lords, &c. 

• My lord, I dare not make myself so guilty. 
To give up willingly that noble title 
Your master wed me to : nothing but death 
Shall e'er divorce my dignities. 

And this burst of unwonted passion is imme- 
diately followed by the natural reaction: it sub- 
sides into tears, dejection, and a mournful self- 
compassion : 

'Would I had never trod this English earth. 
Or felt the flatteries that grow upon it ! 
I What will become of me now, wretched lady? 
I am the most unhappy woman living. 
Alas! poo"f'^> wenches! where are now your fortunes? 

[To her women. 
Shipwreck'd upon a kingdom, where no pity. 
No friends, no hope ; no kindred weep for me. 
Almost, no grave allow'd me ! Like the lily. 
That once was mistress of the field, and flourish'd, 
I'll hang my head, and perish. 

Dr. Johnson observes on this scene, that all Kath- 
arine's distresses could not save her from a quib- 
ble on the word cardinal: 

Holy men I thought ye. 

Upon my soul, two reverend cardinal virtues; 

But cardinal sins, and hollow hearts, I fear ye ! 

378 SbaRcspcarc's Ibctofnes. 

When we read this passage in connection with 
the situation and sentiment, the scornful play 
upon the word is not only appropriate and nat- 
ural, it seems inevitable. Katherine, assuredly, 
is neither an imaginative nor a witty personage; 
but we all acknowledge the truism, that anger 
inspires wit, and whenever there is passion there 
is poetry. In the instance just alluded to, the 
sarcasm springs naturally out from the bitter in- 
dignation of the moment. In her grand rebuke 
of Wolsey in the Trial scene, how just and beau- 
tiful is the gradual elevation of her language, till 
At rises into that magnificent image — 

You have, by fortune, and his highness' favours, 
Gone slightly o'er low steps, and now are mounted, 
Where powers are your retainers, &c. 

In the depth of her affliction, the pathos as nat- 
urally clothes itself in poetry : 

Like the lily, 
That once was mistress of the field, and flourish'd, 
I'll hang my head and perish. 

But these, I believe, are the only instances of 
imagery throughout; for, in general, her lan- 
guage is plain and energetic. It has the strength 
and simplicity of her character, with very little 
metaphor, and less wit. 

In approaching the last scene of Katherine's 
life I feel as if about to tread within a sanctuary, 
where nothing befits us but silence and tears; 
veneration so strives with compassion, tenderness 
with awe.*" 

"Dr. Johnson is of opinion, that this scene "is above 
any other part of Shakespeare's tragedies, and perhaps 

Olueen ItatBerfne or attagon. 379 

We must suppose a long interval to have 
elapsed since Katherine's interview with the twO 
cardinals. Wolsey was disgraced, and poor Anna 
BuUen at the height of her short-lived pros- 
perity. It was Wolsey's fate to be detested by 
both queens. In the pursuance of his own selfishi 
and ambitious designs he had treated both with 
perfidy; and one was the remote, the other the 
immediate cause of his ruin.** 

The ruffian king, of whom one hates to think, 
was bent on forcing Katherine to concede her 

'above any scene of any other poet, tender and pathetic; 
without gods, or furies, or poisons, or precipices ; with- 

- out the help of rgmantic circumstances ; without improb- 
able sallies of poetical lamentation, and without any 
throes of tumultuous misery." 

I have already observed, that in judging of Shake- 
speare's characters as of persons we meet in real life, 
we are swayed unconsciously by our own habits and 
feelings, and our preference governed more or less, by 
our individual prejudices or sympathies. Thus, Dr. 
Johnson, who has not a word to bestow on Imogen, and 
who has treated poor Juliet as if he had been in truth 
"the very beadle to an amorous sigh," does full justice 
to the character of Katherine, because the logical turn 
of his mind, his vigorous intellect, and his austere in- 
tegrity, enabled him to appreciate its peculiar beauties; 
and accordingly, we find that he gives it, not only un- 
qualified, but almost exclusive admiration: he goes so 
far as to assert, that in this play the genius of Shake- 
speare comes in and goes out with Katherine. 

"It will be remembered, that in early youth Anna 
Bullen was betrothed to Lord Henry Percy, who was 
passionately in love with her. Wolsey, to serve the 
king's purposes, broke oflf this match, and forced Percy 
into an unwilling marriage with Lady Mary Talbot. 
"The stout Earl of Northumberland," who arrested Wol- 

380 SbaRespeare'0 fbetoines. 

rights, and illegitimize her daughter in favor of 
the offspring of Anna BuUen: she steadily re- 
fused, was declared contumacious, and the sen- 
tence of divorce pronounced in 1533. Such of 
her attendants as persisted in paying her the hon- 
ors due to a queen were driven from her house- 
hold; those who consented to serve her as prin- 
cess-dowager she refused to admit into her pres- 
ence ; so that she remained unattended, except by 
a few women, and her gentleman-usher, Griffith. 
During the last eighteen months of her life she 
resided at Kimbolton. Her nephew, Charles V., 
had offered her an asylum and princely treat- 
ment; but Katherine, broken in heart and de- 
clining in health, was unwilling to drag the 
spectacle of her misery and degradation into a 
strange country: she pined in her loneliness, de- 
prived of her daughter, receiving no consolation 
from the pope, and no redress from the emperor. 
Wounded pride, wronged affection, and a canker- . 
ing jealousy of the woman preferred to her 
(which, though it never broke out into unseemly 
words, is enumerated as one of the causes of her 
death), at length wore out a feeble frame. 
"Thus," says the chronicle, "Queen Katherine 
fell into her last sickness ; and though the king 
sent to comfort her through Chapuys, the em- 
peror's ambassador, she grew worse and worse; 

sey at York, was this very Percy: he was chosen for 
this mission by the interference of Anna Bullen: — a 
piece of vengeance truly feminine in its mixture of sen- 
timent and spitefulness, and every way characteristic of 
the individual woman. 

ducen ItatberiHe of Srcagon. 381 

and finding death now coming, she caused a maid 
attending on her to write to the king to this ef- 

"My most dear Lord, King, and Husband: 

"The hour of my death now approaching, I 
cannot choose, but, out of the love I bear you, 
advise you of your soul's health, which you 
ought to prefer before all considerations of the 
world or flesh whatsoever; for which yet you 
have cast me into many calamities, and yourself 
into many troubles; but I forgive you all, and 
pray God to do so likewise: for the rest, I com- 
mend unto you Mary, our daughter, beseeching 
you to be a good father to her, as I have here- 
tofore desired. I must intreat you silso to re- 
spect my maids, and give them in marriage, which 
is not much, they being but three, and all my 
other servants a year's pay besides their due, lest 
otherwise they be unprovided for ; lastly, I make 
this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all 
things.— Farewell !"" 

She also wrote another letter to the ambas- 
sador, desiring that he would remind the king ' 
of her dying request and urge him to do her this 
last right. 

What the historian relates, Shakespeare real- 
izes. On the wonderful beauty of Katherine's. 

" The king is said to have wept on reading this let- 
ter, and her body being interred at Peterboro', in the 
monastery, for honour of her memory it was preserved ■ 
at the Dissolution, and erected into a bishop's see.— 
Herbert's "Life of Henry VIII." 

382 SbaRcspcare's 1Bcro(nc0, 

closing scene we need not dwell ; for that requires 
no illustration. In transferring the sentiments 
of her letter to her lips, Shakespeare has given 
them added grace, and pathos, and tenderness, 
without injuring their truth and simplicity: the 
feelings, and almost the manner of expression, 
are Katherine's own. The severe justice with 
which she draws the character of Wolsey is ex- 
tremely characteristic! the benign candor with 
which she listens to the praise of him "whom liv- 
ing she most hated" is not less so. How beau- 
tiful her religious enthusiasm! — ^the slumber 
which visits her pillow, as she listens to that sad 
music she called her knell; her awakening from 
the vision of celestial joy to find herself still on 
earth — 

Spirits of peace ! where are ye ? are ye all gone, 
And leave me here in wretchedness behind ye? 

how unspeakably beautiful ! And to consummate 
all in one final touch of truth and nature, we see 
that consciousness of tier own worth and integ- 
rity which had sustained her through all her 
trials of heart, and that pride of station for which 
she had contended through long years, — which 
had become dear by opposition, and by the per- 
severance with which she had asserted it, — ^re- 
maining the last strong feeling upon her mind, 
to the very last hour of existence. 

When I am dead, good wench. 
Let me be us'd with honour : strew me over 
With maiden-flowers, that all the world may know 

Ctueen Katbecfne ot Zlrrason. 383 

I was a chaste wife to my grave : embalm me, 
Then lay me forth : although unqueen'd, yet like 
A queen, and daughter to a king, inter me. 
I can no more. 

In the Epilogue to this play,*' it is recom- 
mended — 

To the merciful construction of good women, 
For such a one we show'd them: 

alluding to the character of Queen Katherine. 
Shakespeare has, in fact, placed before us a 
queen and a heroine, who in the first place, and 
above all, is a good woman; and I repeat, that 
in doing so, and in trusting for all his effect to 
truth and virtue, he has given a sublime proof 
of his genius and his wisdom; — for which, 
among many other obligations, we women re- 
main his debtors. 

" Written (as the commentators suppose), not by 
Shakespeare, but by Ben Jonson. 

384 Sbaliespeate's f)eroines. 


I DOUBT whether the epithet historical can 
properly apply to the character of Lady Mac- 
beth; for though the subject of the play be taken 
from history, we never think of her with any ref- 
erence to historical associations, as we do with 
regard to Constance, Volumnia, Katherine of 
Arragon, and others. I remember reading some 
critique, in which Lady Macbeth was styled the 
"Scottish Queen" ; and methought the title, as 
applied to her, sounded like a vulgarism. It ap- 
pears that the real wife of Macbeth, — she who 
lives only in the obscure record of an obscure 
age, — bore the very unmusical appellation of 
Graoch, and was instigated to the murder of Dun- 
can, not only by ambition, but by motives of ven- 
geance. She was the granddaughter of Kenneth 
the Fourth, killed in 1003, fighting against Mal- 
colm the Second, the father of Duncan. Mac- 
beth reigned over Scotland from the year 1039 
to 1053 ; — but what is all this to the purpose? The 
sternly magnificent creation of the poet stands 
before us independent of all these aids of fancy; 
she is Lady Macbeth ; as such she lives, she 
reigns, and is immortal in the world of imagina- 
tion. What earthly title could add to her gran- 
deur? what human record or attestation 
strengthen our impression of her reality? 

Xa&^ jfllbacbetb. 385 

Characters in history move before us like a 
procession of figures in basso relievo: we see one 
side only, that which the artist chose to exhibit 
to us; the rest is sunk in the block: the same 
characters in Shakespeare are like the statues 
cut out of the block, fashioned, finished, tangible 
in every part : we may consider them under every 
aspect, we may examine them on every side. 
As the classical times, when the garb did not 
make the man, were peculiarly favorable to 
the development and delineation of the human 
form, and have handed down to us the purest 
models of strength and grace, so the times in 
which Shakespeare lived were favorable to the 
vigorous delineation of natural character. So- 
ciety was not then one vast conventional masque- 
rade of manners. In his revelations, the acci- 
dental circumstances are to the individual char- 
acter what the drapery of the antique statue is 
to the statue itself; it is evident, that, though 
adapted to each other, and studied relatively, they 
were also studied separately. We trace through 
the folds the fine and true proportions of the 
figure beneath: they seem and are independent 
of each other to the practised eye, though carved 
together from the same enduring substance; at 
once perfectly distinct and eternally inseparable. 
In history we can but study character in relation 
to events, to situation and circumstances, which 
disguise and encumber it ; we are left to imagine, 
to infer, what certain people must have been, 
from the manner in which they have acted or 
suffered. Shakespeare and nature bring us back 

386 Sba]^e0peate'0 Iberofnes. 

to the true order of things ; and showing us what 
the human being is, enable us to judge of the pos- 
sible as well as the positive result in acting and 
suffering. Here, instead of judging the indi- 
vidual by his actions, we are enabled to judge 
of actions by a reference to the individual. When 
we can carry this power into the experience of 
real life, we shall perhaps be more just to one 
another, and not consider ourselves aggrieved 
because we cannot gather figs from thistles and 
grapes from thorns. 

In the play or poem of "Macbeth," the inter- 
est of the story is so engrossing, the events so 
rapid and so appalling, the accessories so sub- 
limely conceived and so skilfully combined, that 
it is difficult to detach Lady Macbeth from the 
dramatic situations, or consider her apart from 
the terrible associations of our first and earMest 
impressions. As the vulgar idea of a Juliet — ^that 
all-beautiful and heaven-gifted child of the south 
— is merely a love-sick girl in white satin, so the 
commonplace idea of Lady Macbeth,^_thQUglL.en- 
dowed with the rarest "powers, the loftiest ener- 
gies, and jthe profqundest affections^ ia_.liQtluiig 
but a fierce, cruel woman, brandishing;_a_couple 
of daggers, and inciting her husband to butcher 
a poor old king. " 

■ Even those who reflect more deeply are apt 
to consider rather the mode in which a certain 
character is manifested, than the combination of 
abstract qualities making up that individual hu- 
man being: so what should be last, is first; ef- 
fects are mistaken for causes, qualities are con' 

Xa&!S ^acbetb. 387 

founded with their results, and the perversion 
of what is essentially good with the operation of 
positive evil. Hence it is, that those who can 
feel and estimate the magnificent conception and 
poetical development of the character, have over- 
looked the grand moral lesson it conveys; they 
forget that the crime of Lady Macbeth terrifies 
us in proportion as we sympathize with her ; and 
that this sympathy is in proportion to the degree 
of pride, passion, and intellect we may ourselves 
possess. It is good to behold and to tremble at 
the possible result of the noblest faculties uncon- 
trolled or perverted. True it is, that the ambi- 
tious women of these civilized times do not mur- 
der sleeping kings : but are there, therefore, no 
Lady Macbeths in the world? no women who, 
under the influence of a diseased or excited ap- 
petite for power or distinction, would sacrifice 
the happiness of a daughter, the fortunes of a 
husband, the principles of a son, and peril their 

own souls? 


The character of Macbeth is considered as one 
of the most complex in the whole range of Shake- 
speare's dramatic creations. He is represented 
in the course of the action under such a variety 
of aspects, the good and evil qualities of his 
mind are so poised and blended, and instead of 
being gradually and successively developed, 
evolve themselves so like shifting lights and 
shadows playing over the "unstable waters," that 
his character has afforded a continual and inter- 
esting subject of analysis and contemplation. 

388 Sbal^espeare'0 fjcrofnes. 

None of Shakespeare's personages have been 
treated of more at large; none have been more 
minutely criticized and profoundly examined. A 
single feature in his character — the question, for 
instance, as to whether his courage be personal 
or constitutional) or excited by mere desperation 
— ^has been canvassed, asserted, and refuted in 
two masterly essays. 

On the other hand, the character of Lady Mac- 
beth resolves itself into few and simple elements. 
The grand features of her character are so dis- 
tinctly and prominently marked, that though ac- 
knowledged to be one of the poet's most sublime 
creations, she has been passed over with com- 
paratively few words : generally speaking, the 
commentators seem to have considered Lady 
Macbeth rather with reference to her husband, 
and as influencing the action of the drama, than 
as an individual conception of amazing power, 
poetry, and beauty: or if they do individualize 
her, it is ever with those associations of scenic 
representation which Mrs. Siddons has identified 
with the character. Those who have been ac- 
customed to see it arrayed in the form and linea- 
ments of that magnificent woman, and developed 
with her wonder-working powers, seem satisfied 
to leave it there, as if nothing more could be said 
or added.** 

** Mrs. Siddons left among her papers an analysis of 
the character of Lady Macbeth, which I have never 
seen; but I have heard her say, that after playing the 
part for thirty years, she never read it over without 
discovering in it something new. She had an idea that 

atat'B Slsncbetb. 389 

. ^ But the generation which beheld Mrs. Siddons 
in her glory is passing away, and we are again 

, left to our own unassisted feelings, or to all the 
satisfaction to be derived from the sagacity of 
critics and the reflections of commentators. Let 
us turn to them for a moment. 

Dr. Johnson, who seems to have regarded her 

' as nothing better than a kind of ogress, tells us 
in so many words that "Lady Macbeth is merely 

- detested." Schlegel dismisses her in haste, as 

• a species of female Fury. In the two essays on 
Macbeth already mentioned, she is passed over 

■ with one or two slight allusions. The only jus- 
tice that has yet been done to her is by Hazlitt, 
in "The Characters of Shakespeare's Plays." 
Nothing can be finer than his remarks as far as 
they go, but his plan did not allow him sufificient 
space to work out his own conception of the char- 
acter with the minuteness it requires. All that 
he says is just in sentiment, and most eloquent 
in the expression ; but in leaving some of the 
finest points altogether untouched, he has also 
left us in doubt whether he even felt or per- 
ceived them: and his masterly criticism stops 
short of the whole truth — it is a little superficial, 
and a little too harsh.*^ 

Lady Macbeth must, from her Celtic origin, have been 
a small, fair, blue-eyed woman. Bonduca, Fredegonde, 
Brunehault, and other Amazons of the gothic ages, were 
of this complexion; yet I cannot help fancying Lady 
Macbeth was dark, like Black Agnes of Douglas — a sort 
of Lady Macbeth in her way. 

"The German critic Tieck also leans to this harsher 
opinion, judging rather from the manner in which the 

390 SbaReepcate's f)ero{ne5. 

In the mind of Lady Macbeth, ambition is rep - 
resented as the ruling motive, an intense, over- 
mastering passion, which is gratified at the ex- 
pense of every just and generous principle, and 
every feminine feeling . In the pursuit of her obr 
ject, she is cruel, treacherous, and daring. She is| 
doubly, trebly, dyed in guilt and blood; for the 
murder she instigates is rendered more fright-. 
ful by disloyalty and ingratitude, and by the vio- 
lation of all the mdst sacred claims of kindred 
and hospitality. When her husband's more kindly, 
nature shrinks from the perpetration of the- deed 
of horror, she, like an evil genius, whispers him 
on to his damnation. The full measure of her 
wickedness is never disguised, the magnitude and 
atrocity of her crime is never extenuated, for- 
gotten, or forgiven, in the whole course of the 
play. Our judgment is nqt bewildered, nor our 
moral feeling insulted, by the sentimental jum- 
ble of great crimes and dazzling virtues, after 
the fashion of the German school, and of some 
admirable writers of our own time. Lady Mac- 
beth's amazing power of intellect, her inexorable 
determination of purpose, her superhuman 
strength of nerve, render her as fearful in herself 
as her deeds are hateful; yet she is not a mere, 
monster of depravity, with whom we have nothing 
in common, nor a meteor whose destroying path 
we watch in ignorant affright and amaze. She is 
a terrible impersonation of evil passions and 

character is usually played in Germany than from its 
intrinsic and poetical construction. 

Xa&B ilBacBetb. 391 

mighty powers, never so far removed from pur 
own nature as to be cast beyond the pale of our 
sympathies; for the woman herself remains a 
woman to the last, — still linked with her sex and 
with humanity. 

This impre^on is produced partly by the es- 
sential truth in the conception of the character, 
and partly by the manner in which it is evolved ; 
by a combination of minute and delicate touches, 
in some instances by speech, in others by silence : 
at one time by what is revealed, at another by what 
we are left to infer. As in real life, we perceive 
distinctions in character we cannot always ex- 
plain, and receive impressions for which we can- 
not always account, without going back to the be- 
l^inning of an acquaintance and recalling many 
and trifling circumstances — looks, and tones, and 
words : thus, to explain that hold which Lady 
Macbeth, in the midst of all her atrocities, still 
keeps upon our feelings, it is necessary to trace 
minutely the action of the play, as far as she is 
concerned in it, from its very commencement to 
its close. 

We must then bear in mind, that the first idea 
of murdering Duncan is not suggested by Lady 
Macbeth to her husband: it springs within his 
mind, and is revealed to us before his first in- 
terview with his wife, — ^before she is introduced, 
or even alluded to. 


This supernatural soliciting 
Cannot be ill; cannot be good. If ill, 

392 Sbal:e6peare'0 "Betoines. 

Why hath it given me earnest of success, 
Commencing in a truth ? I am thane of Cawdor— 
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion 
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair. 
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs, 
Against the use of nature? 

It will be said, that the same "horrid sugges- 
tipn" presents itself spontaneously to her on the 
reception of his letter; or rather, that the letter 
itself acts upon her mind as the prophecy of the 
Weird Sisters on the mind of her husband, kin- 
dling the latent passion for empire into a quench- 
less flame. We are prepared to see the train of 
evil, first lighted by hellish agency, extend it- 
self to her through the medium of her husband ; 
but we are spared the more revolting idea that 
it originated with her. The guilt is thus more 
equally divided than we should suppose when we 
hear people pitying "the noble nature of Mac- 
beth," bewildered and goaded on to crime, solely 
or chiefly by the instigation of his wife. 

It is true that she afterwards appears the more 
active agent of the two;\but it is less through 
her pre-eminence in wickedness than through her 
superiority of intellect. The eloquence — the 
fierce, fervid eloquence, with which she bears 
down the relenting and reluctant spirit of her hus- 
band, the dexterous sophistry with which she 
wards off his objections, her artful and affected 
doubts of his courage, the sarcastic manner in 
which she lets fall the word coward — a word 
which no man can endure from another, still less 
from a woman, and least of all from the woman 

Xa^s ifS^acbetb. 393 

he loves — ^and the bold address with which she 
removes all obstacles, silences all arguments, 
overpowers all scruples and marshals the way be- 
fore him, absolutely make us shrink before the 
commanding intellect of the woman with a ter- 
ror in which interest and admiration are strangely 


He has almost supp'd: why have you left the chamber? 


Hath he asked for me? 


Know ye not he has? 


We will proceed no further in this business: 
He hath honour'd me of late ; and I have bought 
Golden opinions from all sorts of people, 
Which would be worn now in their newest gloss. 
Not cast aside so soon. 


Was the hope drunk, 
Wherein you dress'd yourself? hath it slept since? 
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale 
At what it did so freely? From this time, 
Such I account thy love. Art thou afear'd 
To be the same in thine own act and valour. i 

As thou art in desire? Would'st thou have that 
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life. 
And live a coward in thine own esteem ; 
Letting I dare not wait upon I would. 
Like the poor cat i' the adage? ; 


Pr'ythee, peace : 
I dare do all that may become a man; 
Who dares do more, is none. 

394 Sbalftespeare'e Ibetoines. 


What beast was 't then. 
That made you break this enterprize to me ? 
When you durst do it, then you were a man; 
And, to be more than what you were, you would 
Be so much more the man. Nor time, nor place, 
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both; 
They have made themselves, and that their fitness 

Does unmake you. I have given suck ; and know 
How tender 'tis to love the 'babe that milks me : 
I would, while it was smiling in my face. 
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums. 
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn, as you 
Have done to this. 


If we should fail,— 


We fail.* 
But screw your courage to the sticking-place, 
And we'll not fail. 

" In her impersonation of the part of Lady Mac- 
beth, Mrs. Siddons adopted successively three different 
intonations in giving the words we fail. At first, as a 
quick, contemptuous interrogation — "wc fail?" After- 
wards, with the note of admiration — we fail! and an ac- 
cent of indignant astonishment, laying the principal em- 
phasis on the word we — we fail ! Lastly, she fixes on 
what I am convinced is the true reading — we fail. — with 
the simple period, modulating her voice to a deep, low, 
resolute tone, which settled the issue at once — as though 
she had said, "If we fail, why then we fail, and all is 
over." This is consistent with the dark fatalism of the 
character and the sense of the line following, and the 
effect was sublime — almost awful. 

laDis fliiacbetb. 395 

Again, in the murdering scene, the obdurate in- 
flexibility of purpose with which she drives on 
Macbeth to the execution of their project, and. 
her masculine indifference to blood and death, ■ 
would inspire unmitigated disgust and horror, 
but for the involuntary consciousness that it is, 
iproduced rather by the exertion of a strong 
power over herself than by absolute depravity of 
disposition and ferocity of temper. This impres- 
sion of her character is brought home at once to 
our very hearts with the most profound knowl- 
edge of the springs of nature within us, the most' 
subtle mastery over their various operations, and 
a feeling of dramatic effect not less wonderful. 
The very passages in which Lady Macbeth dis- 
plays the most savage and relentless determina- 
tion are so worded as to fill the mind with the 
idea of sex, and place the woman before us in all : 
her dearest attributes, at once softening and refin- 
ing the horror, and rendering it more intense. 
Thus, when she reproaches her husband for his 

weakness — 

From this time, f 

Such I account thy love ! 


Come to my woman's breasts, 
And take my milk for gall, ye murd'ring ministers, 


That no compunctious visitings of nature 
Shake my fell purpose, &c. 

I have given suck, and know 

How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me, &c. 

396 Sbafteapcatc's Ibetolnes. 

And lastly, in the moment of extremest horror 
comes that unexpected touch of feeling, so start- 
ling, yet so wonderfully true to nature — 

Had he not resembled 

My father as he slept, I had done it! 

Thus in one of Weber's or Beethoven's grand 
symphonies, some unexpected soft minor chord 
or passage will steal on the ear, heard amid the 
magnificent crash of harmony, making the blood 
pause, and filling the eye with unbidden tears. 

It is particularly observable that in Lady Mac- 
beth's concentrated, strong-nerved ambition, the 
ruling passion of her mind, there is yet a touch 
of womanhood; she is ambitious less for herself 
than for her husband. It is fair to think this, be- 
cause we have no reason to draw any other infer- 
ence either from her words or actions. In her 
famous soliloquy, after reading her husband's let- 
ter, she does not once refer to herself. It is of 
him she thinks : she wishes to see her husband on 
the throne, and to place the sceptre within his 
grasp. The strength of her affections adds 
strength to her ambition. Although in the old 
story of Boethius we are told that the wife of 
Macbeth "burned with unquenchable desire to 
bear the name of queen," yet, in the aspect under 
which Shakespeare has represented the character 
to us, the ^selfish part of this ambition is kept out 
of sight. We must remark also, that in Lady 
Macbeth's reflections on her husband's character, 
and on that milkiness of nature which she fears 
"may impede him from the golden round," there 

Xa^B ^acbctb. 397 

is no indication of female scorn : there is exceed- 
' ing pride, but no egotism in the sentiment or the 
expression ; no want of wifely and womanly re- 
spect and love for him, but on the contrary, a 
sort of unconsciousness of her own mental su- 
periority, ^hich she betrays rather than asserts, 
■ as interesting in itself as it is most admirably 
, conceived and delineated. 

Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be 

What thou art promis'd: — Yet do I fear thy nature; 

It is too full o' the milk of human kindness 

To catch the nearest way : Thou would'st be great ; 

Art not without ambition; but without 

The illness should attend it. What thou would'st 

That would'st thou holily : would'st not play false, 
And yet would'st wrongly win : thou'dst have, great 

That which cries. Thus thou must do, if thou have it; 
And that which rather thou dost fear to do. 
Than wishest should be done. Hie thee hither, 
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear; 
And chastise with the valour of my tongue 
All that impedes thee from the golden round. 
Which fate and metaphysical" aid doth seem 
To have thee crown'd withal. 

Nor is there anything vulgar in her ambition: 
as the strength of her affections lend to it some- 
thing profound and concentrated, so her splendid 
imagination invests the object of her desire with 
its own radiance." We cannot trace in her grand 
and capacious mind that it is the mere baubles 
and trappings of royalty which dazzle and allure 

" Metaphysical is here used in the sense of spiritual or 

398 Sbaftespcatc's Iberofncs. 

her : hers is the sin of the "star-bright apostate," 
and she plunges with her husband into the abyss 
of guilt, to procure for "all their days and nights 
sole sovereign sway and masterdom." She revels, 
she luxuriates in her dream of power. She 
reaches at the golden diadem which is to sear 
her brain; she perils life and soul for its attain- 
ment, with an enthusiasm as perfect, a faith as 
settled, as that of the martyr, who sees at the 
stake heaven and its crowns of glory opening 
, upon him. 

Great Glamis! worthy Cawdor! 
Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter! 
Thy letters have transported me beyond 
This ignorant present, and I feel now 
The future in the instant ! 

This is surely the very rapture of ambition! 
and those who have heard Mrs. Siddons pro- 
nounce the word hereafter, cannot forget the look, 
the tone, which seemed to give her auditors a 
glimpse of that awful future, which she, in her 
prophetic fury, beholds upon the instant. 

But to return to the text before us : Lady Mac- 
beth having proposed the object to herself, and 
arrayed it with an ideal glory, fixes her eye 
steadily upon it, soars far above all womanish 
feelings and scruples to attain it, and swoops upon 
her victim with the ^rength and velocity of a 
vulture; but having committed unflinchingly the 
crime necessary for the attainment of her pur- 
pose, she stops there. After the murder of Dun- 
can, we see Lady Macbeth, during the rest of the 

Xa&s Abacbetb. 399 

play, occupied in supporting the nervous weak- 
ness and sustaining the fortitude of her husband ; 
for instance, Macbeth is at one time on the verge 
of frenzy, between fear and horror, and it is 
clear that if she loses her self-command, both 
must perish. 


One cried, God bless us ! and Amen ! the other ; 
As they had seen me, with these hangman's hands. 
Listening their fear; I could not say Amen! 
When they' did cry God bless us! 


Consider it not so deeply! 


But wherefrora could not pronounce Amen? 
I had most need of blessing, and Amen 
Stuck in my throat. 


These deeds must not be thought 
After these ways: so, it will make us mad. 


Methought I heard a voice cry "Sleep no more !" &c. 


What do you mean? 
Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy Thane, 
You do unbend your noble strength, to think 
So brainsickly of things:— Go, get some water, &c. 

Afterwards (in act iii.) she is represented as 
muttering to herself : 

Nought's had, all's spent. 
When our desire is got without content : 

400 Sbaltespeate'0 Iberotnea. 

yet immediately addresses her moody and con- 
science-stricken husband : 

How now, my lord? why do you keep alone, 
Of sorriest fancies your companions making? 
Using those thoughts, which should indeed have died 
With them they think on ? Things without all remedy 
Should be without regard ; what's done, is done. 

But she is nowhere represented as urging him on 
to new crimes ; so far from it, that when Macbeth 
darkly hints his purposed assassination of Ban- 
quo, and she inquires his meaning, he replies : 

Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck. 
Till thou applaud the deed. 

The same may be said of the destruction of 
Macduff's family. Every one must perceive how 
our detestation of the woman had been increased, 
if she had been placed before us as suggesting 
and abetting those additional cruelties into which 
Macbeth is hurried by his mental cowardice. 
y^ If my feeling of Lady Macbeth's character be 
just to the conception of the poet, then she is one 
who could steel herself to the commission of a 
crime from necessity and expediency, and be 
daringly wicked for a great end, but not likely 
to perpetuate gratuitous murders from any vague 
or selfish fears. I do not mean to say that the 
perfect confidence existing between herself and 
Macbeth could possibly leave her in ignorance 
of his actions or designs: that heart-broken and 
shuddering allusion to the murder of Lady Mac- 
duff (in the sleping scene) proves the contrary : 

lads Aacbetb. 401 

The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now? 

But she is nowhere brought before us in immedi- 
ate connection with these horrors, and we are 
spared any flagrant proof of her participation in 
them. This may not strike us at first, but most 
undoubtedly has an eflfect on the general bearing 
of the character, considered as a whole. 

Another more obvious and pervading source of 
interest arises from that bond of entire affection 
and confidence which, through the whole of this 
dreadful tissue of crime and its consequences, 
unites Macbeth and his wife ; claiming from us an 
involuntary respect and sympathy, and shedding 
a softening influence over the whole tragedy. 
Macbeth leans upon her strength, trusts in her 
fidelity, and throws himself on her tenderness. 

O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife! 
She sustains him, calms him, soothes him — 

Come on; gentle my lord. 

Sleek o'er your rugged looks ; be bright and Jovial 
Among your guests to-night 

The endearing epithets, the terms of fondness 
in. which he addresses her, and the tone of re- 
spect she invariably maintains towards him, even 
when most exasperated by his vacillation of mind 
and his brain-sick terrors, have by the very force 
of contrast a powerful effect on the fancy. 

By these tender redeeming touches we are im- 
pressed with a feeling that Lady Macbeth's in- 

402 Sbaftespearc's Iberoincs. 

fluence over the affections of her husband, as a 
wife and a woman, is at least equal to her power 
over him as a superior mind. Another thing has 
always struck me. During the supper scene, in 
which Macbeth is haunted by the spectre of the ' 
murdered Banquo, and his reason appears un- 
settled by the extremity of his horror and dismay, ' 
her indignant rebuke, her low whispered remon- 
strance, the sarcastic emphasis with which she 
combats his sick fancies and endeavors to recall, 
him to himself, have an intenseness, a severity, a 
bitterness, which makes the blood creep. 


Are you a man ? 


Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that 
Which might appal the devil. 


O proper stuff! 
This is the very painting of your fear: 
This is the air-drawn dagger, which, you said 
Led you to Duncan. O, these flaws, and starts, 
(Impostors to true fear), would well become 
A woman's story at a winter's fire, 
Authoriz'd by her grandam! Shame itself! 
Why do you make such faces ? When all's done. 
You look but on a stool. 
What! quite unmann'd in folly?. 

Yet when the guests are dismissed, and they are 
left alone, she says no more, and not a syllable 
of reproach or scorn escapes her: a few words 
in submissive reply to his questions, and an en- 
treaty to seek repose, are all she permits herself 

la&B flbactctb. 403 

to utter. There is a touch of pathos and of ten- 
derness in this silence which has always affected 
me beyond expression : it is one of the most mas- 
terly and most beautiful traits of character in the 
whole play. 

Lastly, it is clear that in a mind constituted Hke 
that of Lady Macbeth, and not utterly depraved 
and hardened by the habit of crime, conscience 
must wake some time or other, and bring with it 
remorse closed by despair, and despair by death. 
This great moral retribution was to be displayed 
to us — but how ? Lady Macbeth is not a woman 
to start at shadows ; she mocks at air-drawn dag- 
gers: she sees no imagined spectres rise from 
. the tomb to appal or accuse her.** The tower- 
ing bravery of her mind disdains the visionary 
terrors which haunt her weaker husband. We 
know, or rather we feel, that she who could give 
a voice to the most direful intent, and call on 
the spirits that wait on mortal thoughts to "un- 
sex her" and "stop up all access and passage of 
"remorse" — to that remorse would have given nor 
tongue nor sound; and that rather than have ut- 
tered a complaint, she would have held her breath 
and died. To have given her a confidant, though 
in the partner of her guilt, would have been a de- 
grading resource, and have disappointed and en- 

** Mrs. Siddons, I believe,, had an idea that Lady Mac- 
beth beheld the spectre of Banquo in the supper scene, 
and that her self-control and presence of mind enabled 
her to surmount her consciousness of the ghastly pres- 
' ence. This would be superhuman, and I do not see that 
either the character or the text bear out the supposition. 

404 Sbafiespeate's f>eroines. 

feebled all our previous impressions of her char- 
acter ; yet justice is to be done, and we are to be 
made acquainted with that which the woman her- 
self would have suffered a thousand deaths of 
torture rather than have betrayed. In the sleep- 
ing scene we have a glimpse into the depths of 
that inward hell: the seared brain and broken 
heart are laid bare before us in the helplessness 
of slumber. By a judgment the most sublime 
ever imagined, yet the most unforced, natural, 
and inevitable, the sleep of her who murdered 
sleep is no longer repose, but a condensation of re- 
sistless horrors which the prostrate intellect and 
the powerless will can neither baffle nor repel. We 
shudder and are satisfied; yet our human sym- 
pathies are again touched: we rather sigh over 
the ruin than exult in it ; and after watching her 
through this wonderful scene with a sort of fas- 
cination, dismiss the unconscious, helpless, de- 
spair-stricken murderess, with a feeling which . 
Lady Macbeth, in her waking strength, with all 
her awe-commanding powers about her, could 
never have excited. 

It is here especially we perceive that sweetness 
of nature which in Shakespeare went hand in 
hand with his astonishing powers. He never con- 
founds that line of demarcation which eternally 
separates good from evil, yet he never places evil 
before us without exciting in some way a con- 
sciousness of the opposite good which shall bal- 
ance and relieve it. 

I do not deny that he has represented in Lady 

la&s Aacbetb. 405 

Macbeth a woman "naturally cruel,"^^ "invariably 
savage,"^" or endued with "pure demoniac Urm- 
ness."^^ If ever there could have existed a 
woman to whom such phrases could apply — a. 
woman without touch of modesty, pity, or fear, 
— Shakespeare knew that a thing so monstrous 
was unfit for all the purposes of poetry. If Lady 
Macbeth had been naturally cruel, she needed not 
so solemnly to have abjured all pity, and called 
on the spirits that wait on mortal thoughts to 
unsex her ; nor would she have been loved to ex- 
cess by a man of Macbeth's character; for it is 
the sense of intellectual energy and strength of 
will overpowering her feminine nature which 
draws from him that burst of intense admira- 
tion — 

Bring forth men-children only! 

For thy undaunted metal should compose 

Nothing but males. 

If she had been invariably savage, her love would 
not have comforted and sustained her husband in . 
his despair, nor would her uplifted dagger have 
been arrested by a dear and venerable image ris- 
ing between her soul and its fell purpose. If en- 
dued with pure demoniac Urmness, her woman's 
nature would not, by the reaction, have been so 
horribly venged, — she would not have died of re- 
morse and despair. 


We cannot but observe, that through the whole 
of the dialogue appropriated to Lady Macbeth, 

" Cumberland. " Professor Richardson. 

"Foster's "Essays." 

406 Sbaftespearc's fjerotnes. 

there is something very peculiar and characteristic 
in the turn of expression : her compliments, when 
she is playing the hostess or the queen, are elab- 
orately elegant and verbose : but, when in earnest, 
she speaks in short, energetic sentences — some- 
times abrupt, but always full of meaning, her 
thoughts are rapid and clear, her expressions 
forcible, and the imagery like sudden flashes of 
lightning: all the foregoing extracts exhibit this, 
but I will venture one more, as an immediate il- 


My dearest love, 
Duncan comes here to-night. 


And when goes hence? 


To-morrow, — as he purposes. 


O never 
Shall sun that morrow see! 
Thy face, my Thane, is as a book, where men 
May read strange matters : To beguile the time, — 
Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye, 
Your hand, your tongue; look like the innocent flower. 
But be the serpent under it. 

What would not the firmness, the self-com- 
mand, the enthusiasm, the intellect, the ardent 
affections of this woman have performed, if prop- 
erly directed? but the object being unwortky of, 
the effort, the end is disappointment, despair, 
and death. 

XaOB /Kacbctb. 407 

The power of religion could alone have con- 
trolled such a mind; but it is the misery of a 
very proud, strong, and gifted spirit, without 
sense of religion, that instead of looking upward 
to find a superior, it looks round and sees all 
things as subject to itself. Lady Macbeth is 
placed in a dark, ignorant, iron age ; her powerful 
intellect is slightly tinged with its credulity and 
superstitions, but she has no religious feeling to 
restrain the force of will. She is a stern fatalist 
in principal and action — "what is done, is done," 
and would be done over again under the same cir- 
cumstances: her remorse is without repentance, 
or any reference to an offended Deity; it arises 
from the pang of a wounded conscience, the re- 
coil of the violated feelings of nature: it is the 
horror of the past, not the terror of the future; 
the torture of self-condemnation, not the fear of 
judgment: it is strong as her soul, deep as her 
guilt, fatal as her resolve, and terrible as her 

If it should be objected to this view of Lady 
Macbeth's character that it engages our sym- 
pathies in behalf of a perverted being — and that 
to leave her so strong a power upon our feelings 
in the midst of such supreme wickedness in- 
volves a moral wrong, I can only reply, in the 
words of Dr. Channing, that "in this and the like 
cases our interest fastens on what is not evil in 
the character — that there is something kindling 
and ennobling in the consciousness, however 
awakened, of the energy which resides in mind; 
and many a virtuous man has borrowed new 

408 Sbabespeate's feeroinea. 

strength from the force, constancy, and daunt- 
less courage of evil agents."^^ 

This is true ; and might he not have added that 
many a powerful and gifted spirit has learnt hu- 
miHty and self-government, from beholding how 
far the energy which resides in mind may be de- 
graded and perverted? 

In general, when a woman is introduced into 
a tragedy to be the presiding genius of evil in 
herself, or the cause of evil to others, she is either 
too feebly or too darkly portrayed; either rrime 
is heaped on crime, and horror on horror, till our 
sympathy is lost in incredulity, or the stimulus is 
sought in unnatural or impossible situations, or 
in situations that ought to be impossible (as in 
the Myrrha or the Cenci), or the character is 
enfeebled by a mixture of degrading propensities 
and sexual weakness, as in Vittoria Corombona. 
But Lady Macbeth, though so supremely wicked., 
and so consistently feminine, is still, kept aloof 
from all base alloy. When Shakespeare created a 
female character purely detestable, he made her 
an accessory, never a principal. Thus Regan and 
Goneril are two powerful sketches of selfishness, 
cruelty, and ingratitude; we abhor them when- 
ever we see or think of them, but we think very 
little about them, except as necessary to the ac- 
tion of the drama. They are to cause the mad- 

" See Dr. Channing's remarks on Satan, in his essay, 
"On the Character and Writings of Milton." — Works, p. 

Xa&B /iBacbetb. 409 

ness of Lear, and call forth the filial devo- 
tion of Cordelia, and their depravity is forgotten 
in its effects. A comparison has been made be- 
tween Lady Macbeth and the Greek Clytemnestra 
in the "Agamemnon" of ^schylus. The Cly- 
temnestra of Sophocles is something more in 
Shakespeare's spirit, for she is something less im- 
pudently atrocious: but, considered as a woman 
and an individual, would any one compare this 
shameless adulteress, cruel murderess, and unna- 
tural mother, with Lady Macbeth? Lady Mac- 
beth herself would certainly shrink from the ap- 

The Electra of Sophocles comes nearer to Lady 
Macbeth as a poetical conception, with this strong 
distinction, that she commands more respect and 
esteem, and less sympathy. The murder in which 
she participates is ordained by the oracle — is an 
act of justice, and therefore less a murder than a 

"The vision of Clytemnestra the night before she is 
murdered, in which she dreams that she has given birth 
to a dragon, and that in laying it to her bosom it draws 
blood instead of milk, has been greatly admired, but I 
suppose that those who most admire it would not place 
it in comparison with Lady Macbeth's sleeping scene. 
Lady Ashton, in "The Bride of Lammermoor," is a do- 
mestic Lady Macbeth ; but the development being in the • 
narrative, not the dramatic form, it follows hence that 
■wi have a masterly portrait, not a corpplete individual : 
and the relief of poetry and sympathy being wanting, 
the detestation she inspires is so unmixed as to be al- 
most intolerable : consequently the character, considered 
in relation to the other personages of the story, is per- 
fect; but abstractedly, it is imperfect; a basso relieve- 
not a statue. 

410 Sbaftespcatc's IDerotnca. 

sacrifice. Electra is drawn with magnificent sim- 
plicity, an intensity of feeling and purpose, but 
there is a want of light and shade and relief. 
Thus the scene in which Orestes stabs his mother 
within her chamber, and she is heard pleading 
for mercy, while Electra stands forward listen- 
ing exultingly to her mother's cries, and urging 
her brother to strike again, "another blow ! an- 
other !" etc., is terribly fine, but the horror is too 
shocking, too physical — if I may use such an ex- 
pression; it will not surely bear a comparison 
with the murdering scene in Macbeth, where the 
exhibition of various passions — ^the irresolution 
of Macbeth, the bold determination of his wife, 
the deep suspense, the rage of the elements with- 
out, the horrid stillness within, and the secret 
feeling of that infernal agency which is ever pres- 
ent to the fancy, even when not visible on the 
scene — throw a rich coloring of poetry over the 
whole, which does not take from "the present 
horror of the time," and yet relieves it. Shake- 
speare's blackest shadows are like those of Rem- 
brandt ; so intense, that the gloom which brooded 
over Egypt in her day of wrath was pale in com- 
parison, — yet so transparent, that we seem to see 
the light of heaven through their depth. 

In the who&p compass of dramatic poetry, there 
is but one fertitale character which can be placed 
near that of Lady Macbeth ; — the "Medea." Not 
the vulgar, voluble fury of the Latin tragedy,'** 
nor the Medea in a hoop petticoat of Corneille, 

"Attributed to Seneca, 

la^E flSacbetb. 411 

but the genuine Greek Medea-^the Medea of 

There is something in the Medea which seizes 
irresistibly on the imagination. Her passionate 
devotion to Jason for whom she had left her par- 
ents and country — to whom she had given all, 

Would have drawn the spirit from her breast 
Had he but asked it, sighing forth her soul 
Into his bosom." 

the wrongs and insults which drive her to des- 
peration — the horrid refinement of cruelty with 
which she weeps over her children, whom in the 
her faithless husband — the gush of fondness with 
which she weep over her children, whom in the 
next moment she devotes to destruction in a par- 
oxysm of insane fury, carry the terror and pathos 
of tragic situation to their extreme height. But 
if we may be allowed to judge through the medi- 
um of a translation, there is a certain hardness 
in the manner of treating the character, which 
in some degree defeats the effect. Medea talks 
too much: her human feelings and superhuman 
power are not sufJficiently blended. Taking into 
consideration the different impulses which actu- 
ate Medea and Lady Macbeth, as love, jealousy. 

•• The comparison has already been made in an article 
in the "Reflector." It will be seen, on a reference to 
that very masterly Essay, that I differ from the author 
in his conception of Lady Macbeth's character. 

"Apollonius Rhodius. — Vide Elton's "Specimens of 
the Classic Poets." 

412 SbaRespeare's tbetoinee. 

and revenge, on the one side, and ambition on 
the other, we expect to find more of female na- 
ture in the first than in the last ; and yet the con- 
trary is the fact: at least, my own impression, 
as far as a woman may judge of a woman, is, that 
although the passions of Medea are more femi- 
nine, the character is less so ; we seem to require 
more feeling in her fierceness, more passion in 
her frenzy ; something less of poetical abstraction, 
— less art, — fewer words ; her delirious vengeance 
we might forgive, but her calmness and sub- 
tlety are rather revolting. 

These two admirable characters, placed in con- 
trast to each other, afford a fine illustration of 
Schlegel's distinction between the ancient or 
Greek drama, which he compares to sculpture, 
and the modern or romantic drama, which he 
compares to painting. The gothic grandeur, the 
rich chiaroscuro, and deep-toned colors of Lady 
Macbeth, stand thus opposed to the classical ele- 
gance and mythological splendor, the delicate 
yet inflexible outline of the Medea. If I might 
be permitted to carry this illustration still further, 
I would add, that there exists the same distinc- 
tion between the Lady Macbeth and the Medea, 
as between the Medusa of Leonardo da Vinci and 
the Medusa of the Greek gems and bas-reliefs. 
In the painting, the horror of the subject is at 
once exalted and softened by the most vivid col- 
oring and the most magical contrast of light 
and shade. We gaze, until from the murky 
depths of the background the serpent hair seems 
to stir and glitter as if instinct with life, and the 

3La5ie yaacbetb. 413 

head itself, in all its ghastliness and brightness, 
appears to rise from the cailvas with the glare 
of reality. In the Medusa of scultpure how dif- 
ferent is the effect on the imagination ! We have 
here the snakes convolving round the winged and 
■graceful head: the brows contracted with horror 
. and pain : but every feature is chiselled into the 
most regular and faultless perfection; and amid 
• the gorgon terrors there rests a marbly, fixed, 
supernatural grace, which, without reminding us 
for a moment of common life or nature, stands 
before us a presence, a power, and an enchant- 


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